Published: Apr 7, 2015
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition affecting older adults today. Approximately one third of seniors aged 65 to 74 and one half of seniors 75 and over experience a decline in hearing. Despite these numbers, it is still one of the conditions for which very few older adults seek medical help, and it is a condition that is greatly underdiagnosed and undertreated by medical professionals. While it is not unusual for many people to experience a decline in hearing as they age, there are some underlying causes of hearing loss that can be either treated or prevented. The advantages of early treatment are extensive and can have a significant impact on seniors’ health, quality of life, and independence.
Age-related hearing loss can stem from physical changes in the inner ear, medical conditions, and medications. Aside from age, many other factors can contribute to a decline in hearing. Included in these are genetics, exposure to high noise levels, and chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Sudden deafness, which is a rapid, unexplained loss of hearing, can be caused by medications, illness, trauma, or injury.
Early medical intervention for certain types of hearing loss has been shown to produce good outcomes for the patient. For example, in the case of sudden deafness, treatment by an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor) results in recovery of all or most of the hearing for 85% of those treated. Sometimes it is as simple as changing or stopping a medication that is known to cause deafness (ototoxic medications), and there are hundreds that are prescribed or bought over the counter every day. Medical intervention for all types of hearing loss is beneficial as well. Hearing loss can be an indicator of other health problems, so seeking medical attention for hearing problems can help doctors identify and treat other health issues. Medical professionals can also help seniors with hearing difficulties by prescribing certain treatments or hearing aids.
Often, seniors delay seeking help for hearing problems because of the negative stigma associated with losing their hearing. They may consider it a marker that they are growing old, even though they feel perfectly young. However, left untreated, hearing loss causes a heavy toll emotionally and socially since it can impede the person’s ability to communicate and function. A number of studies have shown that untreated hearing loss results in significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, other psychosocial problems, and social isolation. It can also affect seniors’ ability to live independently as they may not hear doorbells, ringing telephones, or fire and smoke alarms, and hearing loss can be associated with cognitive decline.
Older adults can take measures against hearing loss by first avoiding risk factors to protecting the hearing they currently have. One of the easiest protective measures for people of all ages is to protect themselves against exposure to loud noise (at or above 85 decibels, which is the sound of heavy traffic), one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Even if individuals have already experienced some hearing loss induced by noise, they can protect themselves from further decline by wearing protective devices. They can also be screened for auditory problems regularly to identify a problem early on so they can take action before it becomes a problem that interferes with daily living.
If you would like more information on senior topics, or to find out how in-home care can help seniors continue to live independently, contact your nearest Comfort Keepers® office today.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (November 2013). Age-related hearing loss. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/Age-Related-Hearing-Loss.aspx.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (November 2013). Hearing loss and older adults. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/older.aspx.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (November 2013). Sudden deafness. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/sudden.aspx.
Oyler, A.L. (n.d.). Untreated hearing loss in adults—A growing national epidemic. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/Aud/Articles/Untreated-Hearing-Loss-in-Adults/.
Walling, A.D. and Dickson, G.M. (June 15, 2012). Hearing loss in older adults. Am Fam Physician, 85(12), pp. 1150-1156. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0615/p1150.html.