Hearing Loss in Seniors: 10 Common Signs to Be Aware Of
Hearing loss is a common ailment affecting seniors globally. Recognizing the early signs of deafness can help seniors to maintain their quality of life and keep the lines of communication open with their loved ones.
Causes of Hearing Loss in Seniors
Before we delve into the signs of hearing loss, it’s important to understand what causes hearing loss in the elderly. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is a natural part of the aging process. However, prolonged exposure to loud noise, certain medications, and conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure can exacerbate this issue.
- As per the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about one in three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
- Over 90% of people with hearing loss can be helped by using a hearing aid (NIDCD).
- Less than one-third (30%) of individuals with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids are 70 years of age and older and have never used one (NIDCD).
Warning Signs of Hearing Loss
Understanding the warning signs of hearing loss can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment. These signs might initially seem trivial, but if ignored, they can escalate into more severe problems, such as social isolation, depression, or cognitive decline.
10 Common Signs of Hearing Loss in Seniors
Here are ten common hearing loss signs in seniors to keep an eye out for:
1. Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd
This often happens because the ability to distinguish speech from noise decreases with age. If a senior frequently mishears words or asks for them to be repeated, particularly in noisy environments, this could be an early sign of hearing loss.
2. Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly
This might be a coping mechanism for people experiencing hearing difficulties. The struggle to hear conversations clearly could lead to a preference for slower and louder speech.
3. Trouble hearing high-frequency sounds such as “s” and “th”:
Hearing loss often starts with difficulty hearing higher-pitched sounds. Trouble distinguishing these consonant sounds can lead to misunderstandings in conversation.
4. Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
If the volume of electronic devices constantly needs to be increased for a senior to hear, this could indicate a decline in their hearing ability.
5. Avoiding social settings because it’s too challenging to communicate
Seniors might withdraw from social activities if they find it too hard to understand conversations. This can be a direct consequence of untreated hearing loss, leading to feelings of frustration and isolation.
6. Difficulty hearing on the telephone
The absence of visual cues and the poor sound quality from telephone speakers can make it harder for seniors with hearing loss to follow conversations.
7. Ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
This internal sound can be a common symptom associated with hearing loss. While it’s a symptom rather than a disease, it’s often linked to age-related hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder.
8. Not reacting to loud noises
If there’s a lack of reaction to sounds that would typically elicit a response, this could be a sign of hearing loss. This might include things like not responding to a doorbell, phone ring, or alarm.
9. Reading lips or more intently watching people’s faces during a conversation
This is a common compensation technique used by individuals with hearing loss. If a senior is observed to be doing this more frequently, it may be due to a struggle to hear conversations.
10. Fatigue or headaches after prolonged periods of listening
With hearing loss, listening can be mentally exhausting as the brain works harder to process sound. If a senior frequently experiences fatigue or headaches after listening for extended periods, it may be due to the strain of coping with hearing loss.
Remember, early detection is key. If you or your loved ones exhibit any of the above signs of hearing loss, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional promptly. With the right help, seniors with hearing loss can continue to enjoy an active, fulfilling life.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is that many forms of hearing loss are treatable, and it’s never too late to seek help. Depending on the cause and severity of the hearing loss, solutions may range from medical interventions, hearing aids, and cochlear implants to simple lifestyle adjustments.
Hearing aids are often the first line of defense, improving hearing by amplifying soft sounds. They’re small, wearable devices that can drastically improve communication and quality of life. Recent advancements in technology have even made it possible for these aids to connect to smartphones, allowing seniors to adjust settings for optimal hearing in different environments.
Hearing loss is a prevalent health issue among the elderly. Understanding the causes of hearing loss in the elderly, recognizing the early signs of deafness, and taking timely action can make a substantial difference. Although hearing loss can present challenges, modern medical advancements offer many solutions to keep seniors engaged, active, and connected to their world.
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Age-Related Hearing Loss. 2021. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss
- Hearing Loss Association of America. Basic Facts About Hearing Loss. 2022. https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics/
- World Health Organization. Deafness and hearing loss. 2022.