By Dr Jesse Tan,
Hearing loss can have several origins.
If you’ve served in the military, used noisy garden machinery, or were a musician, there’s a good chance you have some form of hearing loss. These are just a few examples. And some hearing losses are familial and hereditary.
However, there is also a large population of older people who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss simply because of their age.
According to the National Institute on Aging, about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss and almost half of people over 75 have difficulty hearing. These are amazing numbers!
It is one of the most common conditions in the elderly. I see this often in my practice and the key is to identify the signs of an early loss so that something can be done about it, instead of just “getting back to getting old”.
Signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in the quality of your hearing.
Sudden hearing loss is immediately noticeable and you should see your doctor immediately if it occurs. Sometimes it’s a sign of heart disease, stroke, head trauma, or serious infection.
The tricky part is when it’s gradual: your hearing may just feel a bit choked over time and it may not alarm you enough to see a doctor. Some patients even joke with me, which is why they were able to reach the golden age of marriage.
The problem is that over time it gets worse and eventually it becomes more difficult to respond to warnings, like car horns or house alarms. It may be more difficult to hear, making it more difficult to understand a doctor’s or pharmacist’s orders. It can also be more difficult to talk with friends and family, which can be frustrating and maybe even embarrassing.
Here are the signs that you have age-related hearing loss and don’t even realize it:
- You have trouble hearing when talking on the phone.
- You find yourself asking people to repeat themselves when they tell you something.
- You have a hard time following a conversation when two or more people are talking.
- You have turned on your television or radio all the way. (You might not notice it, but your family or friends can comment on it.)
- You feel that the background noise is really interfering with your ability to hear and you need a very quiet place to understand what people are saying.
Why should you get help?
It is really important to talk to your doctor as soon as you start to experience any of the above signs.
There is a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive function. Your auditory cortex involves your brain, nerves, and ears, and it needs hearing to continue to function with good quality. Memory and thinking can also decline more quickly with hearing loss. There are even studies that show a link between dementia and hearing loss.
The brain is like a muscle; the more you use it, the better and sharper it becomes. The sooner you improve the auditory inputs to the brain, the better it is for the brain.
This is also important for your social relationships with your friends and family. Friends and family can get frustrated when communicating with you, and someone with hearing loss can feel like a burden and start to isolate themselves, which is never a good thing for anyone – but especially for the elderly.
Plus, if you decide to use hearing aids to help you hear better, it’s much easier to adjust and learn to use them from the start. As the brain ages, it can be more difficult to learn new functions, and hearing aids may not work as well as hearing loss worsens.
Coping with hearing loss
Perhaps you already have hearing loss at the time of reading this article. Its good!
It’s never too late to slow down and learn what you can do now to improve your overall health and well-being. The best advice I can give you is to be open and honest about your hearing loss to your friends and family. Talk to your doctor – they can refer you to an audiologist or otolaryngologist, like me, to check your hearing and tell you about your options.
Here are a few tips:
- Let people know that you have a hearing problem.
- Ask people to face you and speak slowly and state (not muttering).
- Watch facial expressions and gestures to help understanding.
- Try to move to a quieter space to help you understand the conversation.
- Tell someone if you don’t understand; it’s OK for them to repeat it.
- Talk to your doctor about a hearing test and see if you are a candidate for hearing aids.
Devices to improve hearing
After talking with your doctor, you may choose to have treatments to help treat the hearing loss. Here are two:
- Hearing aids: These are electronic instruments that you wear in your ear to help make sounds louder. There are many different types on the market; some are quite small and not noticeable, and some can help eliminate background noise. It may take a while to find the right one, so ask for a trial period when trying out hearing aids.
- Cochlear implants: These are surgically implanted in the inner ear to help provide a sonic sensation for people who are very hard of hearing. If your hearing loss is severe, these can help you hear better.
Although age-related hearing loss is common, it doesn’t need to have an impact on your quality of life. Talk to your doctors to find out which option is the healthiest for you, so you can live a happy and fulfilling life.
Dr Jesse Tan is the Chief of Medical Staff of Long Beach MemorialCare Medical Center. He is a board certified surgeon who specializes in head and neck surgery / otolaryngology. He is the medical director of Head and Neck Tanning Center in Long Beach.He completed his undergraduate studies at UCLA and a six-year residency program in Head and Neck Surgery / Otolaryngology at UCLA Medical Center. He is trained in all aspects of the specialty, including head and neck tumors, sinus problems, larynx and voice disorders, ear disorders, and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. .