Hearing Loss In Seniors
Hearing loss is a common growing pain associated with aging. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, one out of three adults over the age of 65 suffer from some form of hearing loss.
This number could be improved through increased awareness and testing, more affordable hearing aid options and better prevention of hearing loss in seniors. Use the following guide to learn more about preventing and treating hearing loss.
What Causes Hearing Loss in the Elderly?
Many people suffer gradual hearing loss as they age. This slow loss of hearing is known as presbycusis. Hearing loss affects people differently and can be due to a number of different causes, including:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises over time
- Genetic predisposition to hearing loss
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Some heart conditions
- Head injuries or tumors
Some people may also lose their hearing over time due to the loss of tiny hair cells inside the ear. These hair cells aid the brain in interpreting sound waves, but these hair cells may start to die or suffer damage as you grow older. These hair cells don’t regrow, so any hearing damage that this causes is unfortunately permanent.
Signs of Hearing in Seniors
Many signs of hearing loss are subtle and leave people with hearing damage largely unaware of the problem.
There are a few additional factors that contribute to the problem of undiagnosed hearing loss.
- Age-related hearing loss develops slowly and can go undetected for years.
- Two-thirds of doctors do not include a hearing screening as part of a routine physical exam, so it’s easy for hearing loss to go unnoticed.
- Many seniors are in denial about their hearing loss.
Some early indicators of hearing loss can include:
- Constantly increasing the volume on the television or radio
- Having difficulty hearing people talk in noisy places like restaurants
- Giving incorrect or irrelevant responses because you failed to understand the question
- Finding it easier to understand someone when you can see their face as they talk
- Believing that everyone mumbles or speaks softly
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Feeling tired or stressed out from trying to hear
- Not hearing things like door knocks or alarm clocks
- Difficulty having a telephone conversation
- A tendency to turn one ear toward a speaker to hear them better
How Hearing Loss Can Affect Older Adults
Hearing loss affects more than just your ability to carry on a conversation or listen to your favorite TV show. Consider the many additional ways that hearing loss can have an effect on your life.
- Difficulty hearing can keep people from participating in group conversations or discourage them from attending social functions altogether. This can lead to loneliness or withdrawal, and depression.
- Emotional well-being
Hearing loss can be embarrassing and frustrating and can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
- Diminished personal safety
Hearing loss can be dangerous when you fail to hear things such as car horns, smoke alarms or a doctor’s instructions regarding medication. Hearing loss can also affect your balance and increase your risk for falls.
- Strained relationships with spouses and family members
Hearing loss can lead to arguments over the volume of the TV, blaming others for mumbling and frustration for people speaking to you.
Detecting Hearing Loss
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends adults undergo a hearing test every decade through age 50 and then in three-year intervals thereafter. There are several different types of hearing tests including:
- Speech testing that identifies the quietest level of speech you can identify 50 percent of the time.
- Conduction testing that measures your hearing sensitivity and determines if your hearing loss is conductive or sensorineural.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing that measures brainwave activity in response to sounds.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing that detects hearing loss by stimulating the inner ear and inciting a bounceback reaction.
Preventing Hearing Loss As You Age
Like any health issue, the best medicine is prevention, and there are several things you can do to prevent or slow hearing loss.
- Wear earplugs when operating lawn mowers and other loud equipment.
- Purchase quieter products by comparing the decibel level listed on packaging.
- Eat right and exercise, as hearing loss has been found to be twice as common in people with diabetes.
- Avoid smoking, as smokers are 70 percent more likely to develop hearing loss.
- Don’t push q tips too deep into the canal, as it can push harmful earwax further inward.
Knowing the signs to look for, how often to have your hearing tested, what your options are and how to prevent it can all help older adults hear the world around them more clearly and lead a higher quality of life.
Medicare Coverage for Hearing Aids and Testing
It’s important to note that Medicare does not offer coverage for routine hearing exams or hearing aids. If you receive a routine hearing exam, receive a hearing aid fitting, or buy hearing aids, you can expect to pay 100% of those costs out of pocket.
However, there are Medicare Supplement Insurance plans that can help provide relief and minimize out-of-pocket costs associated with hearing loss, testing and hearing aides.
To learn more about Medicare Supplement Insurance (also called Medigap), speak with a licensed insurance agent by calling 1-800-995-4219.
Learn more about staying healthy as you age with these helpful guides for seniors.