As we age, our bodies undergo natural changes that can impact how we interact with the world around us.
Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, is a gradual loss of hearing that limits a person’s ability to hear noises, especially those of a higher pitch. While this challenge is quite common (Johns Hopkins University estimates one in three adults over 65 experience symptoms), many older adults have difficulty identifying a loss of hearing due to the slow progress of such a condition. Read on to learn how to identify age-related hearing loss in yourself or a loved one, tips for catching this condition early, and steps you can take to overcome this challenge.
Why hearing matters
A loss of hearing can create significant obstacles in an older adult’s life, impacting moment-to-moment safety, physical and mental health, and the ability to remain independent.
A person undergoing hearing loss may be at greater risk to fail to hear warnings, like those of smoke or carbon monoxide alarm, the timer on an oven, or the sound of an oncoming car. These factors increase the risk of experiencing a traumatic accident both at home and while out in the community.
Undiagnosed hearing loss can take a serious toll on an individual’s long-term health outlook by making it much more difficult to communicate with and understand conversations with doctors and other medical professionals. This can lower your medical support team’s ability to provide effective treatment, provide advice, or ask questions that can paint a better picture of your overall health.
Humans are social creatures, and losing the ability to communicate and understand those around you can have serious impacts on long-term mental health.
A loss of hearing can make normal conversation frustrating for both parties and lead to increased social isolation due to a fear of embarrassment. This is particularly significant for those who are homebound, as telephone conversations can be even more difficult than face-to-face chats as the speaker’s face is not visible and the listener has less context clues for what might be said.
Identifying hearing loss
The best way to identify and resolve difficulty hearing is through regular screenings with a doctor as part of your annual checkup; however, there are some early warning signs that can help identify this condition in yourself or a loved one. These include:
- Muffling of speech and other sounds.
- Trouble understanding words, especially when in a crowd or a noisy place.
- Trouble hearing the letters of the alphabet that aren’t vowels.
- Often asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.
- Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio.
- Staying clear of some social settings.
- Being bothered by background noise.
- Ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
Another way to identify possible hearing loss is through the Beltone Online Hearing Screening, which takes little more than 5 minutes and an internet connection, and tests your ability to hear words amidst increasingly loud background noise, and can even test the abilities of your left and right ears individually, provided you use a set of headphones.
Alternatively, the National Institutes of health offer a read-only screening meant for adults between 18 and 64 that might be more accessible for those who are less tech-savvy.
Just keep in mind that while these screening tools and symptoms are helpful, they are in no way a replacement for a formal hearing test at a doctor’s office.
Maintaining the abilities to hear and communicate are critical to maintaining long-term independence as you age, and we hope this article has given you the tools needed to identify and address this common challenge.
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