How Hearing Loss Hurts Seniors
Imagine not being able to enjoy the sounds of a birdsong in a forest, your favorite piece of music, or a grandchild’s voice. Or to be shunned for being anti-social, uncooperative, and unresponsive. All because you just don’t hear as well as you used to.
For many seniors with hearing loss, it’s a daily reality. The truth is that untreated hearing loss can affect every aspect of a senior’s life, from emotional well-being to personal relationships to physical health. It is much more common than you may realize.
While there’s no “typical age” for the onset of hearing problems, about 25 percent of folks age 65 to 74 already have significant hearing loss. And the numbers get higher with every birthday: Experts say hearing loss affects 50 percent of those over age 75, and 80 percent of those over age 85.
An overlooked health issue
Despite being the third most common senior health issue (after hypertension and arthritis), hearing loss is drastically under-diagnosed — even in those who get regular medical care. Surveys estimate that only 14 percent of doctors make hearing loss screenings a regular part of physical exams.
Too often, hearing loss is dismissed as a normal part of aging and not worth treating. Many seniors don’t consider it a legitimate reason to seek medical help, while others may not even realize they have a hearing issue. Only 20 percent of seniors age 65+ with moderate to profound hearing loss perceive themselves as hearing impaired.
Unfortunately, there’s also a social stigma around hearing loss and the use of hearing aids. That may explain why the average length of time between noticing a hearing loss and seeking treatment is 10 years — and why fewer than one-third of people over the age of 70 who need hearing aids actually use them.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Because age-related hearing loss tends to happen gradually over time, a loved one may not realize that he or she is losing the ability to hear. Be alert to changes in behavior, such as a previously social senior no longer wanting to spend time around groups of people.
Other symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Problems hearing over the telephone
- Trouble following conversations when two or more people are talking
- Turning TV/radio volume up too high
- Straining to understand conversation
- Difficulty hearing with a noisy background (i.e. in a restaurant)
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Complaining that others mumble or don’t speak clearly
- Misunderstanding what others say, or not responding appropriately
- Trouble understanding when women or children talk
You can also try this simple hearing check at home: Stand about two feet away and whisper a short number-and-letter combination (“3-M-5”) to your loved one. If he or she can’t hear the combination clearly, talk to the doctor about scheduling a hearing test.
Getting treatment is important
Seniors with untreated hearing loss report a lower quality of life than those without hearing loss and those whose hearing loss has been treated. If you think your loved one may have a hearing problem, it is important to get a diagnosis.
Left untreated, hearing loss can lead to nerve damage in the areas of the brain related to hearing, which can have a direct impact on seniors’ physical health and safety. They may not hear alarms, sirens, or someone shouting a warning. They can miss a doctor’s instructions about taking medication or other key medical information. Hearing is also linked to balance, and studies have shown that seniors with untreated hearing loss are three times more likely to suffer falls.
Research has found a connection between hearing and seniors’ memory and thinking. A six-year study of 2,000 elderly men and women showed that those with hearing loss had 30 to 40 percent faster declines in memory and thinking than those who did not — and those with greater hearing loss had steeper declines in mental function.
The emotional and social impacts are also significant. It’s not uncommon for seniors with hearing loss to lash out with anger or frustration at loved ones, to feel depressed, or to avoid social situations out of shame or embarrassment. Untreated hearing loss cuts seniors off from positive, meaningful interactions with others — and seniors who are socially isolated are less likely to exercise, and more likely to drink, smoke, or eat an unhealthy diet — all of which contribute to poor physical health.
Sharing what we’ve heard
At Hearthstone Senior Living, we strive to support seniors and their families every day by keeping our residents fully engaged in community life.
These are some tips we’ve found to be helpful when talking to someone with a hearing loss:
- Use facial expressions and gestures as you talk
- Speak clearly and at a reasonable speed
- Talk just a bit louder than normal
- Don’t cover your mouth while speaking
- Repeat yourself if need be; try using different words
- At social gatherings, find a quiet place with less background noise
Our communities also have hearing specialist that visit regularly, so residents are able to get their hearing checked, or address any issues they may be having with their hearing aids. In addition, staff at both communities can assist in replacing the small batteries in hearing aids that are often difficult for older hands to change.
When it comes to hearing loss, be patient and positive, knowing that your loved one wants to stay connected and be part of the conversation. To start a conversation about the senior living options at Hearthstone, we invite you to contact us to set up a personal tour today.