What’s that you said? Huh? I’m sorry? Pardon? I can’t hear you. Can you repeat that? Do you hear your loved one say these things multiple times a day? Or maybe they do not respond at all. It could just be a blank stare. I imagine at times it is selective hearing, because how many times a day does someone want to be asked if they drank water or taken their pills? Perhaps the following scenario is also something you go through quite often. You ask your loved one, “How about we go for a walk outside today? It is nice out.” Your loved one responds, “Did I talk to who today?” You say, a little louder this time, “No, I asked if you would like to go for a walk today.” Your loved one goes on to say, “Well I talked with your sister today. She mentioned something about coming to help out. I told her no need to come. We are doing just fine.” At this point you just don’t even try again to repeat yourself, and you start thinking that you could really use your sister’s help. Some nights you might feel as though you are in a movie theater or at the actual sporting event when your loved one is watching T.V., due to the high volume. Do you find yourself getting so frustrated trying to repeat yourself all the time or trying to talk louder without screaming? I hear you! We are going to learn more about age-related hearing loss and ways to create a better situation for everyone involved.

Approximately 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. (1) Age-related hearing loss generally occurs in both ears, and it is gradual. One might not even notice initially that they have hearing loss. Fewer than one out of three people over the age of 70 who need hearing aids, have actually used them. (2)

Why Do We Lose Our Hearing As We Age?

There is no one single cause for age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis. Tiny hairs inside our inner ear are what help us to hear. The tiny hair cells in the inner ear are responsible for picking up the sound waves, and then changing them into nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. As we age, those tiny hair cells become damaged or die, and do not regrow, therefore resulting in loss of hearing. Genetics can also play a role, as it tends to run in families. There are also certain medications that can contribute to hearing loss, such as: certain chemotherapy drugs, diuretics and long term use of aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Long term exposure to loud noises and smoking puts one at a greater risk. Health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can also put someone at a greater risk for hearing loss. (3)

The most common form of age-related hearing loss is difficulty with hearing high frequency tones. Older adults may then find it harder to hear things at higher decibels, such as an alarm going off, a high-pitched doorbell or women and children’s voices. It can then be especially challenging to hear if there is a lot of background noise. They may hear the talking but it can all sound mumbled to them. It may also be a struggle for them to hear consonants such as: f, k, p, t and s along with th sound. (4)

Emotional and Physical Impacts of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be incredibly isolating for older adults. Their relationships with family and friends can suffer, due to not being able to fully participate in conversations. They may find those around them are getting frustrated about having to repeat everything, which is equally frustrating to the older adult. Unfortunately, a person with hearing loss can be perceived as incompetent, when that is rarely the case. All of these aspects can cause older adults to have lower self-esteem, which can ultimately lead to frustration and anger, as well as depression.

There are also physical challenges that come along with hearing loss. If your loved one is driving and they do not hear the siren going off in the distance, a horn honking, or someone shouting a warning, an accident can occur. Researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine and Luiggi Ferrucci, determine that even a mild form of hearing loss, tripled the risk of an accidental fall. The risk increases by 140% for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss. (5) This can be due to a variety of factors, such as: lack of environmental awareness, lack of spatial awareness, or mental overload, since the brain is so focused on trying to hear.

Treatment Options

Hearing Aids – An instrument that can be worn in or behind the ear, which then will help amplify sounds. High frequency hearing loss can be corrected, in most cases, with a hearing aid. It may take a few tries with finding the one that works best for your loved one. Be sure to ask for a trial period with the hearing aid, but know that it will take time for your loved one to adjust. Unfortunately, hearing aids are not covered by Medicare or most insurance companies.

Assistive Listening Devices – There are a variety of devices that can amplify sound. The devices will separate the speech that a person wants to hear from the background noise. It improves which is known as the “speech to noise ratio.” These assistive listening devices are typically provided at movie theaters, live performance theaters, places of employment and then home/personal use. (6)

Cochlear Implants – It is a small electronic device that is implanted in the inner ear. This option is for those who have extreme hearing loss.

If you find that your loved one’s hearing has begun to worsen, contact their primary care provider. They can then make the appropriate referral to an otolaryngologist (specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ear, nose, throat and neck), an audiologist or a hearing aid specialist. (1)

Tips When Talking to Your Loved One

  • When talking to your loved one, make sure you are nearby them and that you are facing them, so they can see your lips and facial expressions.
  • Be mindful of speaking clearly and loudly, but not shouting. Shouting will not help the situation. It will only add frustration to an already tough situation.
  • If your loved one is having difficulty hearing what you are saying, instead of continuing to repeat the same thing, think about another way of wording it.
  • Avoid interrupting when speaking with your loved one.
  • When speaking to them, if possible, make sure there is no background noise, such as the T.V. or music playing.

Dealing with any degree of hearing loss is really difficult for all those involved. For the family and friends of a loved one, it can become quite exhausting always having to repeat yourself and talk louder, only for them to continue to think you said something completely different. Then it is obviously challenging for your loved one. It can feel like they are losing a piece of themselves and their connection to the world around them. Your loved one can feel equally bad when they have to continue to ask for something to be repeated, and then see the person on the other end of it getting frustrated. These negative experiences can cause your loved one to retreat, and not want to go out, which is also not helpful. Just remain cognizant of their mood. Find something they might like to do that does not require a lot of talking back and forth. Know when you need to take a break, because it does require a tremendous amount of patience. If you are in need of either additional assistance with your loved one, or resources about hearing aids, assistive devices, etc. contact Denver Senior Care. They would be happy to help you navigate through this aspect of the aging process.

References:

(1) https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss#1

(2) https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52508-How-hearing-loss-affects-seniors

(3) https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001045.htm

(4) https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2017/hearing-decline-age-fd.html

(5) https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52548-New-research-links-hearing-loss-to-an-in creased-risk-of-falls

(6) https://www.nad.org/resources/technology/assistive-listening/assistive-listening-systems -and-devices/