- Written by Nancy J. Schaaf, RN Nancy J. Schaaf, RN
Do you ask people to repeat what they are saying? Do you need to turn the TV volume so loud that others complain? Do you need help understanding speech because of background noise or think that others mumble?
You are not alone, as hearing loss ranks one of the most common chronic health conditions adults experience. Statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
The essential communication components of sensing, interpreting, and responding to people and things in their environment can be challenging for these individuals.
Better Speech and Hearing Month is observed in May annually to heighten awareness about communication disorders and hearing health. This day was founded by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to “promote understanding of speech and hearing disorders, prevent hearing loss, and encourage people to seek treatment for hearing and speech-related issues.”
Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is the hearing loss that gradually occurs in many of us as we age. This hearing loss usually occurs in both ears, and you may not even realize you have lost some hearing ability because it happens slowly.
It may be difficult to distinguish age-related hearing loss from hearing loss that occurs for other reasons, such as long-term noise exposure or a short blast, such as a gunshot.
Highly audible noise is the most common cause of hearing loss. Noise from snow blowers or lawnmowers can damage the inner ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss.
Jobs such as farming, construction, or factory work, where loud noise is routine, can lead to damage inside your ear, as can recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels, like snowmobiling, carpentry, motorcycling, or loud music. This type of noise also contributes to tinnitus.
This noise exposure can damage the 16,000 sensory hair cells within their inner ear. Once hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back, and your hearing ability diminishes. Loud noise damages the auditory nerve that carries information about sounds to your brain.
You can prevent most noise-related hearing loss by reducing the sound level on your devices, using earplugs or other ear protection, or avoiding loud noise.
Conditions prevalent in older people, like high blood pressure or diabetes, can be a factor in hearing loss. Medications toxic to the sensory cells in your ears, such as some chemotherapy drugs, can also cause hearing loss. Temporary effects on your hearing, such as tinnitus or hearing loss, can occur if you take high doses of aspirin, antimalarial drugs, or diuretics.
Tinnitus is also widespread in older people. It is described as ringing in the ears but can also sound like roaring or buzzing. It may not be constant, and loud or soft ringing can be in one or both ears. Tinnitus is often the first sign of hearing loss in older adults.
Most older people who experience hearing loss have a combination of age-related and noise-induced hearing loss.
Hearing loss has a significant effect on your quality of life. Having trouble hearing can make it challenging to comprehend and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear doorbells and alarms. Because hearing loss makes conversation difficult, some people experience feelings of isolation, often leading to depression.
Research shows that hearing loss is linked with cognitive impairment and decline. Studies indicate that older adults with hearing loss have a greater risk of dementia than those with normal hearing. With hearing loss, memory and concentration decline more quickly.
A recent analysis determined that people who used hearing therapeutic devices, such as hearing aids, had a lower risk of long-term cognitive decline than those with uncorrected hearing loss.
If you already have hearing loss or are experiencing pain or ringing in the ears, take steps to keep it from worsening. Research on the interaction between hearing loss, cognitive impairment, depression, and isolation is ongoing, but results suggest that treating hearing loss can positively affect cognitive performance, especially memory.
If you have a hearing problem, the most important thing you can do is seek professional advice. Your doctor may be able to diagnose and treat you, or they may refer you to other experts, like an otolaryngologist; ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT); or an audiologist, a health professional who can identify and measure hearing loss.
Nancy J. Schaaf, a retired RN, worked as a school nurse, a nurse supervisor at a men’s prison, and a health educator. She earned her BSN at Edinboro University. She is a freelance writer whose health articles appear in magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. She can be reached at email@example.com.