hearing exam for senior womanWhile hearing loss can be a natural part of aging, outside factors like extreme noise and certain health conditions often worsen its progression.

For seniors, hearing loss becomes a quality of life concern. Someone who is unable to follow a conversation is less likely to socialize and engage with others. When an older adult can’t respond appropriately, they may be considered rude or uncooperative. As such, this lack of interaction could lead to cognitive decline.

Hearing loss also means someone might not hear the doorbell at home, smoke alarms or police sirens, which presents a safety hazard. Adaptive devices like hearing aids can help improve how those affected sense their surroundings while for some, surgery is needed.

It’s estimated that up to 50 percent of all seniors experience some degree of hearing loss. Whether for yourself or a loved one, understand how this occurs and the warning signs.

Types of Hearing Loss

If you’re unable to make out select sounds, particularly those at a low or high pitch, hearing loss is only partial. However, some individuals experience a total loss.

Along with these effects, loss of hearing will be categorized as one of the following types:

  • Sensorineural, which relates to damage involving the ear or auditory nerve. This source often contributes to permanent hearing loss.
  • Conductive, which involves aspects like wax, fluid buildup or a punctured eardrum and can be reversed.
  • Sudden, in which loss occurs within a short period of time – up to three days – and often indicates a medical issue.
  • Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss that’s often hereditary. Also involving the auditory nerve, it starts slow and affects both ears.
  • Tinnitus, characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears. This condition can occur alone or in conjunction with other hearing problems.

In certain cases, a decline in hearing may be misdiagnosed as dementia, particularly if the patient stops responding to conversations.

Signs of a Hearing Problem

In older adults, signs of hearing loss often manifest as:

  • Not hearing well or being unable to have conversations over the phone.
  • Not being able to follow conversations involving more than two people.
  • Finding background noise distracting or that it obscures what others are saying.
  • Thinking everyone you talk to is mumbling or slurring their words.
  • Regularly asking others to repeat what they just said.
  • Increasing the volume of the television, to the point that others complain.
  • Not being able to hear or distinguish certain higher-pitched voices.
  • Not being able to detect certain syllables, particularly consonant sounds.
  • Pain or ringing in your ears.
  • Having to pay more attention when others are talking to understand every word.
  • Not comprehending a question or providing an answer that doesn’t make sense.
  • Withdrawing from social groups.
  • Talking louder to make yourself heard by others.
  • Asking other people to speak slowly or louder.

Causes of Hearing Loss

For seniors, these symptoms can be attributed to a combination of the following factors:

  • Changes to the inner and middle ear, as well as auditory nerves passing to the brain.
  • Certain health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, a stroke or brain injury.
  • A tumor pressing down on the nerve passing hearing signals to your brain.
  • Ototoxic medications prescribed to treat certain infections, heart disease or cancer.
  • Routine exposure to loud noises, including music through headphones or not wearing appropriate hearing protection when mowing the lawn.
  • Earwax or fluid buildup, which can block or alter how sounds pass through the ear.
  • An infected or punctured eardrum, which may occur if you clean out earwax too forcefully with a cotton swab.
  • Genetics contributing to changes in ear shape or growths that affect how the auditory nerves transmit sound.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs of hearing loss, contact the the medical professionals at Avon Health Center to discuss your concerns and learn more about our services.