As seniors get older, it’s not uncommon for them to lose their hearing. A grandmother who used to share whispered secrets with a grandchild may now struggle to hear shouts from across the house. A grandfather who used to be an avid talker may now feel isolated from discussions he can’t make out. While hearing loss is a common side effect of aging, it’s not the rule for every senior. With proper care and prevention tactics, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent hearing loss and maintain your hearing well into your golden years. Read on to learn more.
Why Hearing Loss Happens in Seniors Today, about 8.5% of seniors ages 55-64 are experiencing some degree of hearing loss. By the time seniors reach the age of 75 or older, that number has risen to 50%. With these numbers in mind, it’s clear that hearing loss is a widespread problem that affects many people. But what causes it? The truth is that there are dozens of reasons for hearing loss and that very few people lose their hearing for the same reason. For starters, age is a factor in hearing loss. As you age, the microscopic hairs in the ear (which are required for helping the brain make sense of sound waves) get damaged or die off completely, making it more difficult for seniors to convert sound waves into discernable sounds. This type of hearing loss is known as presbycusis, and it is, unfortunately, permanent. Once the hairs in the ear have become damaged, they cannot grow back, and seniors must turn to mechanical hearing aids and the like. Aside from age-related hearing loss, there is also hearing loss associated with things like medications, high blood pressure, tumors in the brain or inner ear, strokes, viruses, punctured eardrums, or even a simple buildup of earwax. In some cases, people who have worked in loud industries (such as music or factories) may experience hearing loss that results because of damage to the eardrum.
The Effects of Hearing Loss For people who haven’t experienced hearing loss, the effects of the condition may seem as simple as not being able to hear friends or acquaintances or requiring people around you to speak louder. If you’re currently suffering from hearing loss, though, you know that the effects can be much more pronounced than that. For many people, hearing loss results in a pronounced feeling of isolation and exclusion. While the world around you continues to move, as usual, you’ve lost your ability to participate as you once did simply because you can’t hear like you once did. The effects can be devastating. In some cases, the effects of hearing loss can go far beyond the physical and start to affect seniors on a mental and emotional basis. According to one 2014 study, approximately 12% of seniors affected by hearing loss experience depression ranging from moderate to severe. In addition to being linked to an increased risk of depression, hearing loss can also wreak havoc on a senior’s cognitive function. According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study published in 2012, hearing loss can decrease cognitive function by as much as 41% in some seniors. These things can be detrimental to your health and, as such, it’s critical to ensure that you’re taking proactive steps to prevent hearing loss.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss We’ve all heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere does it ring truer than with hearing. While hearing is difficult to restore once it’s been lost, it’s relatively simple to maintain. With this in mind, here are some of the primary ways seniors can protect their hearing both now and in the future:
1. Wear ear protection. Upwards of ten million Americans have already done irreversible damage to their hearing as a result of loud noises. With this in mind, it’s clear that protecting your ears from loud noises is essential. Because of this, it’s wise to wear ear muffs at loud concerns, insert ear plugs before running chainsaws or other loud machinery, and be careful about how loud the music you play in headphones is. These are small steps, but they can serve to safeguard your hearing in the years to come.
2. Be careful with medications. Some medications can have dire effects on hearing, and many people assume this is normal when it’s not. If you’ve noticed that a medicine you recently started taking is affecting your hearing negatively, see your doctor. There may be an alternate treatment you can adopt to protect your hearing and your health.
3. Get frequent check-ups. While many people forgo annual hearing screenings, attending them allows you to catch dangerous hearing loss issues before they become permanent. Be sure to see your doctor about any new or worsening hearing symptoms as you age. While these tips may seem simple, they can go a long way toward preventing the damage caused by hearing loss and ensuring that you remain happy, healthy, and alert well into their senior years. What’s more, these easy prevention tips can also contribute to ensuring that you never have to suffer the cognitive and mental challenges caused by pronounced hearing loss.
How to Treat Hearing Loss If you’ve already suffered irreversible hearing loss, don’t fret. Because hearing loss is so common, it has many well-researched treatment options. For example, people suffering from hearing loss may find a hearing aid helpful for day-to-day life. Hearing aids are beneficial for seniors with various levels of hearing loss and are available in a wide selection of sizes, options, and styles. While many people are concerned about how wearing a hearing aid will make them look, today’s models are small and low-profile, so you’re the only one who knows you’re wearing one. If a hearing aid isn’t a fit for your unique situation, you can also explore surgical treatment options, including cochlear implants, which are meant to treat severe hearing loss by making sounds louder and helping seniors decipher the noises around them. Beyond surgery, there are also many non-invasive and non-mechanical options available. These range from sign language to lip reading, and can serve to help you feel more interactive and included in your daily life.
Hearing Loss Doesn’t Have to be a Reality for All Seniors Hearing loss affects millions of Americans, and it can have devastating repercussions for mental and emotional well-being. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be the status quo. By understanding the common causes of hearing loss and taking proactive steps to prevent it, you can protect your hearing throughout the aging process. While some hearing loss is hereditary and can’t be prevented entirely, these smart steps can help you reduce environmental risk factors and ensure that you’re doing what you can to keep your hearing in tip-top shape. Although many people assume that hearing loss is an intrinsic portion of old age, this doesn’t have to be the case, and people who understand the causes of hearing loss and know how to prevent them are better equipped to stay sharp and alert throughout their golden years.