Hearing loss among seniors is sometimes difficult to distinguish as age-related hearing loss or other factors that possibly contribute to hearing loss in seniors.
Learn about common causes of hearing loss, symptoms of hearing loss in seniors, available treatments, and other facts about hearing loss that affects seniors.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is common among seniors, with approximately one in three seniors experiencing some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Signs and symptoms potentially vary from one senior individual to another senior, and may occur in one ear, or both ears.
One of the early signs of possible hearing loss is when you or a loved one struggles to hear what family members or friends say to you, or to someone else. Do you have to ask people to speak louder because you cannot hear the person, or think that they are not speaking loud enough? Do you find that you turn the television up louder than you used to so that you can hear it? Do you struggle to hear when you are on the telephone? Do you tell others to speak up and stop mumbling? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, perhaps you need your hearing checked.
The National Institute on Aging also lists having difficulty hearing when women or children speak to you, experiencing difficulty hearing because of background noise, and having difficulty following a conversation with two or more people speaking as other possible signs and symptoms of hearing loss.
When age-related hearing loss advances, the senior experiences other difficulties, potentially including inability to hear high-pitched sounds, determining where a sound is coming from, and ringing in the ears. Some seniors experience dizziness or problems with their balance.
Seniors sometimes become withdrawn, avoid social gatherings, going to the movies, or visiting with family and friends because of hearing loss. Embarrassment over not being able to hear sometimes contributes to seniors becoming more withdrawn.
Depression is occurs in some seniors with hearing loss. If you, or your loved one experiences these symptoms associated with hearing loss, discuss it with your primary care doctor or a specialist.
Causes of Hearing Loss
When you consider age-related hearing loss, called ‘presbycusis,’ up to 50 percent of seniors over the age of 75 have some degree of hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss usually affects both ears. It is gradual, which is why some seniors do not realize early on that they have hearing loss due to advancing age.
Another cause of hearing loss is a gradual buildup of wax in one or both ears. When a senior experiences a buildup of earwax, it potentially blocks the ear canal, which potentially prevents the conduction of sound waves.
Ear infections sometimes contribute to hearing loss. When a senior experiences an earache, there is a possibility that there is an existing ear infection in one or both ears. Untreated ear infections sometimes lead to complications, including perforation of the eardrum, and hearing loss.
Illnesses and some medical conditions contribute to hearing loss in older individuals. If you are a diabetic, have hypertension, or experienced a heart attack, stroke, tumor or brain injury, these factors possibly result in hearing loss.
There is a variety of less-common causes of hearing loss among seniors.
Hearing Loss Types
While seniors likely think all hearing loss is the same, there are different types of hearing loss. These types of hearing loss vary among individual seniors.
Sensorineureal hearing loss affects the inner ear. The American Speech-Language-hearing Association (ASHA) explains that in addition to inner ear damage, problems with your nerve pathways from the inner ear to your brain sometimes cause this type of hearing loss.
There are several potential causes of sensorineureal hearing loss, including experiencing a head injury, some types of illness, loud noises, or exposure to explosions, a family history of hearing loss, and aging.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is difficulty associated with sound getting through your outer and middle ear. This occurs for a variety of reasons. One cause of conductive hearing loss is colds or allergies that result in fluid in the middle ear.
Earwax buildup, infection in the ear canal, or swimmer’s ear, is another factor contributing to conductive hearing loss.
If a senior has poor Eustachian tube function, a hole in the eardrum, a benign tumor that blocks the outer ear or the middle ear, these factors possibly lead to conductive hearing loss. Seniors that have a foreign object in their ear are also at risk of experiencing this type of hearing loss.
Noise-related hearing loss is a common cause of hearing loss among seniors. Seniors that grew up listening to parents play loud music, or that played their own music loudly as young adults sometimes experience noise-induced hearing loss.
Working in a noisy environment, whether a noisy factory or a noisy office environment, or other exposure to noises that last for too long or are too loud increase the possibility of noise-related hearing loss in seniors.
If you or your loved one experiences hearing loss in one ear, yet have normal hearing in the other ear, this is an example of unilateral hearing loss. Some children are born with the condition, which likely leads to them experiencing unilateral hearing loss as seniors.
There are other causes of unilateral hearing loss including some types of illnesses or infections, exposure to loud noise, head injury, and other possible factors.
Mixed hearing issues occur when a senior experiences both conductive and sensorineureal hearing loss.
Mixed hearing loss possibly occurs when you have two varying factors, such as noise induced hearing loss, along with fluid in the middle ear.
Hearing Loss Treatment and Solutions
The type of hearing loss treatment depends on the type of hearing loss, and cause of the hearing loss experienced by a senior. Scientists and researchers do not know how to prevent hearing loss in seniors. There are treatments available if you do experience hearing loss as a senior.
The first step is to get your hearing checked. This is a pain-free test that your doctor likely orders for you. Delaying diagnosis and treatment poses the risk of greater hearing loss.
One common hearing loss treatment is hearing aids. Hearing aids are no longer the large devices that once garnered ridicule and taunting by others. Modern hearing aids are barely noticeable, custom fitted, and worn in or behind the ear.
Hearing aids do not cure hearing loss. They make sounds louder.
Your hearing specialist works with you to custom-fit your hearing aid to your needs. Hearing aids often help seniors with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Cochlear implants are another hearing loss treatment. They are surgically implanted electronic devices that provide a sense of sound to the deaf or others with profound hearing loss.
Assistive listening devices include apps, home telephone, or cell phone amplifying devices. Closed circuit television is another assistive listening device.
Hearing Loss in Veterans
The VA describes hearing loss as ‘one of the top service-connected disabilities among veterans.’ Veterans are at risk of noise induced hearing loss, and age-related hearing loss. Do you qualify for health care from the VA? The VA pays for hearing aids, unlike Medicare, and some other types of healthcare coverage.
When a VA audiologist determines that you need a hearing aid, or other hearing loss treatment, the VA helps veterans receive the treatment. The VA routinely provides your treatment device, batteries, and other needs at no cost to veterans of all ages with hearing loss.