Addressing Hearing Loss in Older Adults

[Hearing loss is one of the most common and most significant health challenges facing older adults. One in three people over the age of 65 and half of those over 85 have some degree of difficulty hearing. This “invisible disability” can have major effects on a senior’s quality of life, on their relationships, and on their physical and mental health.

Health risks of hearing loss in older adults

Uncorrected hearing loss may raise the risk of mental and physical health problems and leads to higher hospitalization rates and health care costs, according to research published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The two-part report, based on an analysis of health data from more than 150,000 people 50 and older reporting age-related hearing loss and no evidence of hearing aid use, is a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins University, AARP Services Inc., OptumLabs and University of California, San Francisco.

The report found that untreated hearing loss is associated with a greater risk of depression, dementia, heart attack, and falls. The data showed that over 10 years, untreated hearing loss was associated with a 52 percent greater risk of dementia, a 41 percent higher risk of depression and an almost 30 percent greater risk for falls when compared with those who had no hearing loss.

There are an estimated 38 million Americans with hearing loss, including two-thirds of adults older than 70, but less than 20 percent use hearing aids. Furthermore, people tend to wait an average of seven years from the time they start noticing hearing loss to the time they seek help, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

While hearing issues associated with aging cannot be cured, family members and caregivers can help in a number of ways.

Start the conversation about hearing loss

An important step in addressing a loved one’s hearing problem is helping them recognize it. Often people don’t realize that they are hearing impaired because they have found ways to accommodate changing hearing abilities. Find a quiet distraction-free place to talk. Begin by sharing a desire for your loved one to enjoy social situations, and discuss safety concerns like the inability to hear a car horn, the smoke detector, or another loved one’s cries for help. 

Gently point out the tell-tale signs of hearing problems: keeping the TV and radio at excessive volume, asking people to repeat what they have said, and difficulty following a conversation in a noisy restaurant. The chances are good that they will admit that they aren’t hearing like they once did.

Change the way you communicate

The Centers for Disease Control offers several recommendations for talking with people with hearing loss:

  • Address the person face-to-face and speak clearly, articulating your words.
  • Adjust the volume of your voice as necessary, but be careful not to shout, which makes understanding a message more difficult.
  • When interacting in groups, ask others to take turns speaking. Overlapping conversations are tough to follow.
  • Limit background noise. Most hearing-impaired individuals cannot hear speech over television, music, air conditioners and fans.

Seeking Treatment with Hearing aids

Among the people who recognize an impairment and have a desire to improve upon it, the most common method to address it are hearing aids.  Unfortunately, only 20 percent of people with significant hearing loss actually seek treatment. Encourage your loved one to see a hearing health provider, who willadminister painless tests to determine the degree of hearing loss. If the hearing loss is moderate to severe, the provider is likely to prescribe a hearing aid.

If you get hearing aids, remember that they may need to be adjusted from time to time for best results because hearing abilities could change over time.

Invest in assistive technology

Hearing aids aren’t the only electronic devices that can improve your loved one’s ability to hear. Products like TV sound amplifiers, captioned telephones, and microphones can help older adults enjoy life and communicate with others. Visual ‘flashing light” doorbells, phones and smoke detectors ensure that your loved one can function safely in their home.

Seek Treatment with Audibel

If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with hearing loss don’t put it off any longer. Contact us at Audibel. You have so much to gain when you take the leap to improve your quality of life!