Whether it’s a song played at a wedding or a baby’s first cry, some of life’s most precious memories begin with a sound. Losing the ability to hear well not only affects how a person communicates and engages with the world, it may impact their ability to make new memories. According to research funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), hearing loss may affect cognition and dementia risk in older adults.
A 2017 article published by the NIA referenced a 2011 study that found “that older adults with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia than older adults with normal hearing. In fact, there was a relationship between level of uncorrected hearing loss and level of dementia risk: mild hearing loss was associated with a two-fold increase in risk; moderate hearing loss with a three-fold increase in risk, and severe hearing loss with a five-fold increase in risk.” That’s why it’s important for older adults to realize the need to address hearing loss early.
Affecting about 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74, according to the NIA, hearing loss is a common problem among older adults. Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is a condition that can arise from several causes, including genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. There have even been links to hearing loss found to certain medications, such as cancer drugs, and health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, the most commonly associated causes are changes in the inner ear, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Reduced hearing can also impact a person’s quality of life. It can cause people to become depressed and withdraw from social situations because they experience frustration and embarrassment about not understanding conversations. They may also have difficulty responding to warning sounds, ringtones, doorbells and alarms. People may not want to admit to having hearing problems or may not seek treatment. However, ignored or untreated hearing loss only worsens over time. Knowing the signs of hearing loss can help with early intervention.
Signs of hearing loss
- Muffling of voices and sounds
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Difficulty following conversations when two or more people speak
- Trouble hearing while using the telephone
- Having to ask people to repeat what they are saying
- Thinking that other people seem to mumble
- Watching TV or listening to the radio at a volume so loud that others complain
- Inability to understand when women or children speak
- Difficulty hearing due to background noise
- Tinnitus or “ringing in the ears”
What can be done?
The most important step a person who suspects hearing loss can do is to seek professional medical advice. A family physician or specialist may be able to diagnose and treat a hearing problem. They may also recommend an audiologist who can identify and measure hearing loss as well as help with treatment decisions. Treatment will depend on factors such as severity of the hearing loss, age and health of the person. Options may include a hearing aid or assistive listening devices such as personal amplifiers or special apps for phones and tablets and training in lip reading and using visual cues to determine what’s being said during conversations.
Coping with hearing loss
If you are experiencing trouble hearing, the NIA recommends several options for coping with the condition, including:
- Making people aware of your hearing problem
- Asking people to face you and to speak more slowly and clearly. Also, asking them to speak louder without shouting.
- Paying attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures
- Letting the person talking know if you do not understand what he or she said
- Asking the person speaking to reword a sentence and try again
- Finding a good location to listen. Place yourself between the speaker and sources of noise and look for quieter places to talk
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