Hearing loss is a common health issue amongst seniors. Hearing function naturally tends to degrade as we get older. It’s simply a natural part of the ageing process for many people. The medical term for it is presbycusis, and it can occur suddenly or very gradually. It often affects both ears equally, is often so gradual that many people don’t notice the changes right away.
Hearing loss due to ageing is most commonly caused by the natural breakdown of the fine hairs in the inner ear. It’s these hairs that carry the sound to the brain, so it can register the sound. When the hair cells are broken down, the sound reaches the ear, but the signal doesn’t make it to the brain. This is called sensorineural hearing loss. It can also be caused by changes that affect the eardrum or bones of the middle ear, which is called conductive hearing loss.
Empathizing with Seniors with Hearing Loss
If you’ve never experienced the sensation of not being able to hear what’s happening around you, it can be hard to understand what your loved one is going through. Even slight hearing loss can be incredibly frustrating for anyone, so it’s important to be empathetic. One of the best things you can do is to know what to look for. When you know the symptoms of hearing loss, you’ll be able to recognize why they’re behaving a certain way and be able to speak to a doctor about it.
Recognizing the signs of hearing loss
When you’re with someone with hearing loss, it’s likely that you’ll begin to notice behavioural changes. They may start to speak louder than is necessary for a situation or might ask people to repeat themselves over and over again. They might also lean forward to listen, as they strain to hear the conversation. When they watch television or listen to music, they will often turn the volume way up, to the point that it feels much too loud for everyone else.
Other things to look for are favouring one ear, difficulty hearing when they’re on the phone, or seeming disinterested in the conversations around them. If you notice any of these behaviours in your loved one, it’s a good idea to ask them if they have noticed anything different with their hearing and ensure they visit a doctor.
How hearing loss is diagnosed
If you suspect that your loved one has hearing loss, the first step is to pay a visit to your family doctor. If they suspect that it is indeed a hearing issue, they will likely issue a referral to an audiologist or an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) doctor. Several hearing tests will be performed to determine the type and degree of loss. Once this is determined, a course of treatment will be recommended.
Treatment could involve specialized devices like hearing aids or assistive devices like flashing lights to indicate a ringing phone or doorbell. Closed captioning is also an option for when they watch television or movies.
What you can do for someone with hearing loss
Thankfully, there are a few easy things you can do to make it easier to communicate with someone with hearing loss. The first is perhaps the easiest change: when you speak, make sure you speak slowly and clearly. This will make it easier for them to follow the conversation. They’ll appreciate not having to always ask you to repeat yourself. Next, you should always make sure they can see you when you speak to them. This is especially important if they tend to read lips during conversations.
It’s also a good idea to reduce background noise as much as possible when you have a chat. Turn off the television, turn down any music, and avoid doing any noisy activities like washing dishes or vacuuming while you have a conversation. This will allow them to fully concentrate on what is being said and will make sure there aren’t competing sounds to process.
In addition, it’s important to encourage them to keep up with their daily activities. Hearing loss can be very frustrating and can cause people to want to isolate themselves. As they get used to life with reduced hearing, it’s important for them to realize that with a few minor adjustments, they can still do all their favourite things and enjoy a full life.