Finding it harder to hear, especially in a crowded room, is very common as you age. An estimated one in three seniors between 65 and 74 have some degree of age-related hearing loss, and nearly half of those age 75 and older experience trouble hearing.
For some people, hearing loss isn’t much more than a nuisance. Others feel frustrated or embarrassed by asking their loved ones to repeat themselves over and over again. Hearing loss can also play a role in seniors’ sense of isolation, since difficulty hearing can make it hard to communicate and feel connected to others.
In some cases, hearing loss can have more serious repercussions, especially if it means someone is unable to detect emergency signals or hear and process information necessary to protect their health and safety.
You may not be able to prevent age-related hearing loss completely, but understanding more about hearing loss, how to protect your ears, and some of the ways you can cope with hearing loss will help you enjoy a fuller, richer quality of life.
1. How to Recognize Hearing Loss
If you’ve been looking into hearing loss, you may have come across the term “presbycusis.” That might sound complicated and maybe even worrisome, but the presbycusis definition is really quite simple. Presbycusis (which, by the way, is pronounced pres-buh-kyoo-sus) is age-related hearing loss that occurs in both ears. It’s a gradual loss and most often affects sounds in the higher frequencies, such as a whistle, beep or ringing phone.
Understanding what causes age-related hearing loss may help you be aware of potential risks, but you can’t always prevent it. The most common hearing loss causes include:
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise
- Changes in the inner ear as you age (such as the loss of sensory receptor hair cells, which can be due to genetics, health conditions and certain medications)
- Changes in the nerves between your ear and brain
- Reductions in the blood supply due to heart disease or diabetes-related vascular conditions
- Physical abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
If you’re experiencing age-related hearing loss, you may notice hearing loss symptoms such as:
- Trouble following along with conversations, especially when you’re in a room with significant background noise
- More difficulty hearing women’s voices than men’s
- Words sounding mumbled or slurred
- Ringing in your ears (called tinnitus, this can affect one or both ears)
- Certain noises seem excessively loud and irritating
2. When Hearing Problems Require Medical Attention
Although age-related hearing loss is very common, some hearing problems can be indicative of a problem that requires a doctor’s prompt intervention:
- Sudden hearing loss, typically in one ear, whether instantly or over the span of a few days
- Pain or fluid draining from your ear, which can indicate an injury or infection
- Hearing loss accompanied by dizziness or vertigo
- Persistent wax buildup that impedes hearing
- Other noticeable, unexplained loss of hearing (Although not an emergency, subtle hearing changes you can’t explain should be addressed with your primary care doctor and/or an ear-nose-throat specialist to determine a course of action.)
3. How to Protect Your Hearing as You Age
Although age-related hearing loss may ultimately be beyond your control, you can take steps to protect your ear health and minimize the chances of profound loss.
Have your hearing checked regularly. Even if you haven’t noticed any of the symptoms described above, hearing loss is often so gradual, you might not realize it’s happening. Regular screening may help identify and treat loss before it begins to interfere with your daily life.
If you have hearing aids, use them. Your hearing aids allow for stimulation between the ear and brain, so the more often you wear them, the more brain stimulation occurs. Wearing your hearing aids regularly keeps you from having to retrain your brain to hear and process sounds.
Reduce your exposure to loud noise. If you’ll be exposed to potentially damaging noises — such as woodworking equipment, motorized lawn care, fireworks or loud machinery — wear protective ear coverings.
Avoid inserting anything into your ears. Talk with your doctor about safe methods of wax removal to avoid the risk of damaging your ear with a cotton swab.
Stop smoking. Smoking causes numerous health risks, including hearing loss.
Be conscious of medication side effects. Many different kinds of medication, including aspirin, have the potential to affect your ears.
4: Tips for Living with Hearing Loss
Depending on your specific type of hearing loss, you may have a variety of options for how to improve hearing. Your doctor can explain the various assistive devices, technology and treatment options that may help. In addition:
- Ask others to speak slowly, clearly, and, if necessary, a bit louder than their normal speaking volume.
- Minimize the background distractions you can control, such as turning off the TV or radio to enjoy a chat.
- Pay attention to lighting; a brighter room will allow you to see better so you can focus on hearing.
- Learn to watch body language and facial cues for additional context to help you understand what the speaker is trying to convey.
- When possible, sit across from, rather than next to, the person you’re communicating with. This makes it easier to read lips, if necessary, and amplifies the sound equally to both ears.
Hearing loss can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, but making your home in a senior living community is one way to ensure you can remain as active and social as you wish. Garden Plaza of Florissant offers a dynamic lifestyle for seniors looking to get the most out of their retirement. We look forward to introducing you to life at Garden Plaza, from our unrivaled senior living services and amenities to wellness programming tailored to your unique goals and needs.