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Addressing Hearing Loss

Experiencing Hearing Loss1
30% Seniors, Ages 65-74
Almost 50% of Seniors, Ages 75+

While loss of hearing can be considered a normal part of aging, it can be very isolating. Hearing problems may make it difficult to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to safety warnings, hear doorbells and alarms and may even lead to increased falls. If untreated, hearing loss may also lead to depression and withdrawal.

Look for the Signs

There are many telltale signs of hearing loss in seniors. Watch for these warnings:

  • Problems hearing on the telephone
  • Uncharacteristic silence in social situations
  • Sometimes responding inappropriately in conversation

Types of Hearing Loss

There are several types of hearing loss associated with aging. Gradual hearing loss is called presbycusis. Presbycusis is most prominent at high frequencies, although a decrease in hearing across all frequencies sometimes occurs. Equally important, presbycusis may make it difficult to distinguish among different speech sounds.

Another form of hearing loss is tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. It’s often found in those who have worked in noisy environments for extended periods.

Finding the Right Device

If you or a loved one seem to have difficulty hearing, visit an otolaryngologist, or an ear, nose and throat specialist. Together with an audiologist, they can test your hearing and determine treatment options.

You have many choices in listening devices that compensate for lost hearing:

  • Hearing aids come in a variety of different designs. To find the one that works best, you may have to try a few to find the right fit. When purchasing a hearing aid, make sure you have the option of returning it during a trial period.
  • Personal listening systems — each composed of a directional microphone connected to earphones — help you hear specific sounds while eliminating or lowering other noises. Some personal listening systems are designed for crowded rooms while others are meant for one-on-one conversation.
  • TV listening systems can help you better hear the television or radio without turning up the TV’s sound.
  • Telephone amplifying devices work with hearing aids that have a “T” switch. When the hearing aid is in the “T” position, the amplifying coil in these special phones is activated, making it easier to conduct a conversation on the phone.

Speaking to Someone With Hearing Loss

A senior who suffers from hearing loss must focus intently during conversations. If your loved one has hearing loss, you can help by taking the following steps:

  • Wait until the person can see your face clearly to watch your expressions before speaking.
  • Try to speak as clearly as possible. Don’t shout, don’t exaggerate sounds, and don’t speak more slowly than you normally would.
  • Eliminate background noise. Turn off the TV and radio and close windows if it is noisy outside.
  • Avoid chewing gum, eating snacks or covering your mouth when you talk.

Hearing Made Clear, an in-depth resource created by AARP, is a useful guide for understanding the latest research on hearing loss prevention.

Source: 1. National Institutes of Health National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick Statistics. Accessed 15 November 2012.