Hearing loss often stems from loud noise exposure, age, genetics or a side effect of certain diseases. It’s estimated that as many as 50 percent of older adults have a degree of hearing loss and this rate increases with age.
As hearing loss often occurs gradually, many older adults do not seek treatment until it’s too late. Here’s what you should know about age-related hearing loss.
What Is Age-Related Hearing Loss?
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, emerges slowly over time and affects both ears. The condition relates to degeneration of the inner ear, the nerves flowing to the brain and the small hair cells within the ear. These hair cells do not regrow and their loss can affect how well sounds are converted to electrical pulses for the brain to acknowledge as sounds.
While there’s not always a clear cause, age-related hearing loss can be categorized based on what’s preventing sound waves from traveling through the ear. Metabolic presbycusis results from a decrease in blood supply to the inner ear, while mechanical refers to an increase or thickening of tissues in this area. A person can also have mixed presbycusis.
On the other hand, hearing loss among older adults may correlate with the development of a more serious condition. General hearing loss can be classified as:
- Sensorineural, which involves the inner ear and auditory nerve. It is also permanent.
- Conductive, which relates to an obstruction preventing sound waves from traveling to the inner ear.
- Tinnitus, which pertains to ringing in the ear. It may occur constantly or come and go in one or both ears.
Regardless of the condition or source, hearing loss is a quality-of-life issue that may lead to depression, isolation or frustration in social situations. Studies have also shown that adults who lose their hearing are more at risk for cognitive decline and dementia.
How Does Age-Related Hearing Loss Occur?
In general, hearing loss can result from:
- Regular exposure to loud noises
- Earwax and fluid buildup in the ear
- Infection or pressure puncturing an eardrum
- Placing objects in the ear, like a cotton swab
For older adults, hearing loss may also stem from health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, a stroke, brain injury, tumor or heart condition. Ototoxic drugs, including antibiotics, cancer treatment and medications for heart disease can damage the ear.
Symptoms of Age-Related Hearing Loss
Whether gradual or sudden, age-related hearing loss is characterized by the inability to:
- Fully Hear Others: Words and speech often sound muffled, mumbled or slurred.
- Hear High-Pitched Tones: You may find it hard to hear the phone ringing, microwave beeping or women’s and children’s voices.
- Easily Decipher Sounds: You have difficulties understanding conversations in relation to background noise or when two or more people talk over each other.
- Hear Certain Syllables: Consonants like “s” and “th” aren’t always distinguishable.
As hearing loss is irreversible and may be related to another health condition, you’re advised to seek medical attention.
Diagnosing and Managing Age-Related Hearing Loss
A doctor will examine your outer ear canal and drum for damage, inflammation, infection and any blockages. You may also be referred to an audiologist for an audiogram to assess how well you hear certain pitches and sounds.
To improve your hearing and quality of life, you may be recommended to:
- Use a hearing aid or cochlear implant, if your hearing is mostly or entirely gone
- Use an assistive device, like a speech-to-text translator or telephone amplifier
- Begin speech-reading by examining body language, facial expressions and lips
- Routinely remove wax accumulation from the outer ear
- Let others know you have a hearing problem
Are you concerned about an older loved one’s hearing? Consult with the medical professionals at West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center! Contact us today.
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