Age-related hearing loss
Although it is difficult for any of us in our youth to imagine we may be losing our hearing, age-related hearing loss begins from the time we are in our 30s and 40s. As we age, our hearing also gradually diminishes. This type of age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis. It is the most common hearing loss in seniors and is usually permanent. Presbycusis affects each person differently.
In some cases, it may progress earlier or be worse depending on other environmental or medical factors a person has experienced. For example, a person who has worked in an occupation with high noise exposure may experience earlier signs of hearing loss than someone who works in a quiet environment. Similarly, someone who suffers from a chronic disease like diabetes may also experience hearing-related problems at an earlier age compared to someone who is relatively healthy.
When a senior is unable to clearly hear and understand while communicating with others it often results in him/her having feelings of frustration, shame, humiliation, and inadequacy. According to The National Council on the Aging (NCOA), there are serious emotional and social consequences of untreated hearing loss in adults aged 50 and older. These persons were more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, anxiety, and paranoia, compared to those of similar ages who had hearing loss but wore hearing aids. Additionally, physical symptoms such as tension, exhaustion, and psychological symptoms also appeared to have a direct impact on the mental health of those with untreated hearing loss.
In a study by John Hopkins University of hearing impaired senior volunteers who had repeated cognition tests for a period of over six years; results found that the cognitive abilities of the subjects declined 30 to 40 percent faster than normal hearing subjects, even in those who had only a mild hearing loss. It also found that the severity of the decline in brain function was directly related to the amount of hearing loss the person had. That is, the worse the hearing loss, the worse the decline in cognitive function. On average, older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.
Unfortunately, seniors often neglect seeking help for their hearing loss due to preconceived notions of how others will perceive them and they deny the impact their hearing loss has on their quality of life. For example, up to 67 percent of seniors with hearing loss believe that others will see them as old and feeble if they wore a hearing aid. As many as 85 percent of seniors with hearing loss believe that their family members and friends are okay with them constantly asking to have things repeated. Studies show that most seniors have some degree of hearing loss but choose to have others make accommodations for them or, they wait a minimum of seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss or, they believe their hearing is just fine and continue into their remaining years of life without any type of treatment for their hearing loss. Overall, seniors simply do not realize that their untreated hearing loss not only affects them negatively, but also creates difficulties for family members and friends, who are then forced to adjust their method of communicating by speaking louder or continually repeating what was said. This method however only leads to feelings of irritation, frustration, and anger.
The most simple and reliable form of help for seniors with presbycusis is hearing aids. And, with today’s hearing aids being so small and discreet, most people are not even aware someone is wearing the device.
Hearing aids help seniors hear better. They help when communicating with family, friends, and others. It also reduces emotional stress related to hearing loss. Additionally, aid in the prevention of mental and cognitive decline is also provided. With hearing aid assistance, the development of dementia is slowed down. Finally, it helps keep seniors more socially engaged.
When a senior with hearing loss takes the steps necessary to have his or her hearing loss treated with hearing aids, both the senior and the family members all report a significant improvement in the overall quality of life. According to studies, seniors revealed improvements in their relationships with family, in their social life with friends, in their sex life, and in their overall health. Seniors also said they gained more independence. After experiencing the improved benefits in communicating after getting their hearing aids, many seniors wished they had not waited so long before obtaining them.
- For further information on any hearing-related disorders, please contact Dr. Deborah Nubirth, doctor of audiology, in New Providence at Comprehensive Family Medical Clinic, Poinciana Drive at 356-2276 or 677-6627 or 351-7902 in Grand Bahama; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.