It’s estimated that 28.8 million people in the United States could benefit from wearing hearing aids, but less than one in three of those people have ever tried them. Part of the reason for this is that many seniors feel embarrassed about their hearing problems and don’t seek treatment.
You should know that you're not alone in facing hearing difficulties and there’s no reason to forego hearing care. Hearing loss is actually something many older adults experience. In fact, around half of people aged 75 and older and nearly a quarter of individuals aged 65 to 74 have hearing loss that's severe enough to be qualified as a disability.
There are many reasons hearing loss often occurs with age. For one thing, the middle ear and nervous system change as we grow older, making it more difficult for information to travel from the receptors in the ear to the brain. Repeated exposure to noise can cause damage that complicates things further, and researchers have determined that genetics may also play a role.
For some people, medical history may also be involved in age-related hearing loss. Conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes can lead to a decline in hearing, and some medications like chemotherapy drugs may harm cells in the ear and limit the ability to hear. Infections of the ear may also cause short-term or permanent hearing loss in some cases.
It’s important to note that earwax can be a culprit as well. A buildup of earwax can impede the conduction of sound waves through the ear. Earwax may be the sole cause of hearing loss in some cases, but for some people, age-related hearing difficulties often stem from earwax and other factors.
Hearing loss is a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse over time. The first symptoms are often subtle. Some signs that you may be in the early stages of hearing loss include:
Hearing loss can affect you in some surprising ways. For example, even mild hearing loss can make you three times more likely to suffer fall accidents. This is because the same changes that impact hearing may affect balance, and the brain may not be able to control balance as well when struggling to interpret sounds.
Problems with hearing can also impact your mental health. Being unable to easily communicate can lead to social isolation and may make it harder for seniors to enjoy hobbies, special events and outings. These are some of the reasons there's a strong association between hearing loss and depression in older adults. Scientists are also investigating whether hearing loss may put seniors more at risk for developing dementia.
If you notice any of the above-described symptoms of hearing loss, talk to your medical provider. They can order a hearing test to determine the degree of loss, conduct an examination and order tests to identify any underlying conditions that may be contributing to the problem.
When earwax buildup is responsible for hearing issues, a health care provider can safely remove it in the office. For other causes of hearing loss, a number of devices are available to help, such as:
Although it may not be possible to prevent age-related hearing loss, people of all ages can take steps to protect their hearing and promote ear health by: