Hearing Loss - Symptoms and Treatment

 By: Michael Vaughan
Many senior citizens are affected by some hearing loss. If left untreated, any extent of hearing loss may worsen over time. It is important that senior citizens with difficulty hearing consult their doctor. Companions or caregivers who notice a senior citizen is experiencing trouble hearing should facilitate and encourage the senior to seek medical attention. Knowing the symptoms and taking appropriate treatment measures can help stop and, in some cases, even reverse hearing loss.

Hearing is very important for daily functioning so problems with hearing are quite serious and should be addressed as soon as possible. Senior citizens who experience hearing loss may feel isolated or embarrassed as a result. Still, if you find that you have trouble hearing, talk to your doctor about the many treatment options available.

Symptoms

Senior citizens who have hearing loss often complain of:

  • Having trouble hearing on the phone

  • Difficulty with following conversations, especially when multiple people are talking

  • Needing to have volume levels of electronics so high that others notice and complain

  • Difficulty hearing things over background noise

  • Sensing that people always seem to mumble

  • Cannot understand when women or children speak to you


Diagnosis

If a doctor finds that you have hearing loss, they may refer you to an otolaryngologist who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat. After this doctor conducts diagnostic tests, they may refer you to an audiologist who is trained to measure hearing function. Audiologists can test your hearing for certain pitches and loudness levels in order to find if a hearing aid is needed. These tests are painless.

Hearing loss is caused by degeneration of nerves with age, one of the reasons it is prevalent among senior citizens. Other common contributions to hearing loss are earwax build-up, exposure to very loud noises over long periods of time, viral and bacterial infections, heart conditions, head injuries, tumors, medications, and heredity.

Types of Hearing Loss

Some different types of hearing loss include:

Presbycusis:This is age-related hearing loss. Senior citizens affected by this condition can either have a hard time hearing or have low tolerance for loud noises. It can be caused by damage to the inner ear known as sensorineural hearing loss.

Tinnitus:This condition is characterized by hearing ringing, roaring, or some other continuous noise in the ears. It can be caused by exposure to loud noises, hearing loss, medications, other health problems, allergies, and conditions of the heart and blood vessels. The source of noise caused by tinnitus is unclear and varies in how long it affects the sufferer. Senior citizens can treat the condition by either using a hearing aid to make other sounds louder or using a masker that makes tinnitus noise less noticeable. Others use music to drown out the extra noise. Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and loud noises can decrease the effects of tinnitus.

Conductive hearing loss: This is caused by blockage between eardrum and the inner ear. This can be caused by ear wax build-up, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, punctured ear drum, or ear infections. For ear wax blockage specifically, it is suggested that sufferers use mild treatments like mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops to soften ear wax. If you think the eardrum may be damaged, you should contact a doctor.

Treatment

Senior citizens who suffer from hearing loss have many options for treatment and alleviating symptoms of decreased hearing functioning. These include:
Hearing aids: these are small devices placed on the ear that make certain noises louder. Audiologists can help find the right hearing aid for you and may allow you to test it in a trial period. Pick a hearing aid manufacturer who will work with you while you adjust to wearing the product, and be sure that you are aware of how to maintain a hearing aid, such as replacing batteries and how to use it properly.

Assistive/Adaptive devices: There are a variety of products that fit within this category like:

  • Telephone amplifying device: can be a receiver or entire phone that makes phone conversations louder

  • TV and radio listening systems: avoids having to turn the volume up on regular devices

  • Assistive listening systems: these are sometimes available in public venues like theaters, churches, synagogues, and meeting places

  • Alerts: allow for signals that replace doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks in order for the hearing impaired to hear them properly. These usually employ vibrations or flashing lights to replace noise.


Cochlear implants: If hearing loss is severe, a small electronic device can be placed under the skin, behind the ear. It allows sound to bypass the malfunctioning part of the ear and send signals directly to the brain. This process is not helpful for all cases of hearing loss or deafness.


Tips for Senior Citizens

For senior citizens affected by hearing loss, here are some helpful hints for communication:

  • Let people know you have trouble hearing them

  • Ask people to face you, talk slower, or ask them to speak without shouting

  • Pay attention to facial expressions and gestures

  • Let people know when you don't understand them

  • Ask people to reword things for you when you don't understand


Tips for Caregivers

Elder caregivers taking care of senior citizens who suffer from hearing loss can use these helpful hints when speaking to their patients:

  • Face the person and talk clearly

  • Speak at a normal speed and do not cover the mouth

  • Stand in good lighting and avoid background noises

  • Use facial expressions and physical gestures

  • Repeat yourself if necessary

  • Keep a hearing impaired person involved in a conversation rather than talking to others about the individual while in their presence

  • Be patient,positive and relaxed during the interaction

  • Ask how you can help them understand you

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