Are you ready for the sights and sounds of the holiday season? People rely on their senses for both essential and pleasurable information from the environment. Certain changes in our senses occur naturally with aging, while others result from specific causes. Hearing loss is one change which is commonly experienced by older adults. The National Institutes of Health reports approximately 33% of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have some level of hearing loss. This percentage increases to 50% for those who are over age 75.
Hearing loss may be caused by conditions such as wax build-up, a punctured eardrum, or as a side effect of medications. Heredity may play a role for some people, while for others, medical conditions such as stroke, infection, and heart problems result in hearing loss. Damage to the ear from repetitive exposure to loud noises also causes hearing loss. Some types of hearing loss are temporary, but others are permanent. An examination by a physician can help determine the cause and treatment for hearing loss.
Symptoms of hearing loss may seem obvious, such as a loud television volume, asking others to repeat themselves, complaints that others mumble, or difficulty with telephone conversations. Other signs may include difficulty following conversations which involve more than one person, involve individuals who have a higher pitch to their voices, or take place in locations where there is significant background noise, such as a restaurant.
It is important to recognize that some people who experience these symptoms may not identify that a change in hearing has occurred, or they may not be willing to admit that they are having difficulty hearing. Instead, they choose to avoid embarrassment and frustration by withdrawing from situations which have become harder to manage. This withdrawal can lead to depression. In addition, someone with hearing loss may be perceived as confused, noncompliant, or disinterested because portions of conversations are either missed or misinterpreted.
Hearing loss also poses safety risks, such as a lack of awareness of the sound of surrounding traffic as they are driving, a smoke alarm, or a verbal warning of danger. They may not correctly hear instructions from a health care provider about medications or management of an illness. An unwillingness to answer the telephone or inability to hear a ringing telephone may cause family members to worry that the individual they are trying to call is ill or injured.
There are methods which can be used to help facilitate improved communication with people who are experiencing hearing loss. Here are some tips:
- Make sure you have the individual’s attention before you begin speaking.
- Face the individual directly while talking.
- Speak clearly and at a reasonable speed.
- Try different words if the individual is having difficulty understanding.
- Use gestures when appropriate.
- Limit background noise if possible.
- Use shorter sentences.
- Make sure only one person speaks at a time.
- Avoid chewing gum, eating, or covering your mouth while speaking.
Are you concerned about possible hearing loss for yourself or a loved one? A hearing screening can help determine the presence and extent of hearing loss. Keystone Elder Law is partnering with Beltone @Home to offer free hearing screenings on Thursday, December 5th from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. If you already have hearing aids, you can still join us as Beltone will provide a free cleaning of your aids. Registration is required. Please call 717-697-3223.
The diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss improves the quality of life for both individuals and families who are affected by this condition. Don’t miss out on the sounds of the holidays and family gatherings by assuming that difficulty hearing is simply due to age related changes and must be tolerated. Join us on December 5th to begin a path to better hearing!
Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN