Hearing Loss: What Older Adults Need to Know
Last updated on Feb 12, 2019
Hearing loss is more common than you might think. Over 15 percent of US adults have some type of hearing loss that negatively affects their ability to communicate.
You might only have hearing loss in one ear. It could be from genetics or an ear infection or a head injury. It might only last a few weeks, or it could be permanent. Something as routine as being exposed to loud subway sounds for 15 minutes a day can cause hearing damage over time.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are a few different types of hearing loss common in adults:
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve to the brain. Usually permanent damage, this can be the result of illness, head trauma or loud noise exposure, genetic causes, or factors related to aging. This covers everything from mild tinnitus to severe loss.
- Conductive hearing loss usually is not permanent. This typically happens when fluid, earwax, or some other foreign body is lodged within the middle ear and blocking sound waves from reaching the inner ear.
- A punctured eardrum or ear infection may also be the culprit. This type of hearing loss can often be repaired through surgery or some other medical treatment. Just make sure to go to your doctor so you can get treated.
But loss of hearing isn’t that cut and dry. It’s very possible for a person to have a mix of different types of hearing loss common in adults, which may involve damage to the outer or middle ear as well as the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Unaddressed Hearing Loss
It is not always easy to tell when an older person is struggling with their hearing. They may come across as quiet or aloof, even confused. On top of that, loss of hearing can potentially feed social isolation. Because communication levels can quickly deteriorate, loved ones might assume this lack of response is due to cognitive decline, and then the hearing problems don’t get addressed.
What’s more, many adults do not immediately address the issue. After all, there’s still a stigma around hearing aids, and too many adults convince themselves they’re hearing “good enough” and don’t need help.
Keeping Your Balance
Loss of hearing can lead to balance problems because it creates a lack of awareness of our surroundings, leading to a greater chance of tripping, stumbling and falling. According to a study by John Hopkins Medicine, people with mild (25-decibel) hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling issues, and every 10 decibels of loss increases the chances of falling by nearly 1.5 times. This makes hearing loss even more of a safety issue. If you have experienced a recent fall or have felt a lack of balance when standing and walking, it is important to discover the underlying cause of these issues.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent the potentially isolating and depressing effects of hearing loss, prevention is critical. A major preventative measure you can incorporate into your life is to always wear earplugs when exposed to noisy environments. Also consider using over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds and keep music to 85 decibels or lower.
If left untreated, hearing loss can severely restrict a person’s quality of life. If you notice you’re having difficulty hearing certain sounds or in certain environments, go get your hearing tested. In fact, as you get older, consider getting a routine hearing test annually. Just like a dental check-up, an annual hearing test can help you catch problems early. The earlier the diagnosis, the better chance you have to effectively address the problem. That could mean getting your ears cleaned professionally, having surgery in more serious cases, or buying hearing aids.
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