Hearing loss can have serious consequences to your health beyond the frustration of not being able to hear well or at all. It can result in mental health issues, physical health issues and major safety concerns including:
Depression due to isolation;
Faster cognitive decline resulting in dementia due to isolation;
Significant increase in risk of falling due to balance issues;
Driving impairment due to the inability to hear sirens, horns and other vehicles accelerating;
Paranoia due to inability to hear environmental sounds and cues; and
Increased stress from struggling to understand.
Keeping tabs on the ability to hear is an important part of healthy aging. Age-related hearing loss happens gradually, typically over a decade or more, and often goes unnoticed until it becomes significant. Among people 75 and older in the United States, nearly half have difficulty hearing and about one in three between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss.
Although most hearing loss cannot be reversed, it can often be successfully treated and the earlier it is discovered, the easier it is to adapt to management techniques, hearing aids or other assistive listening devices. Hearing aids and other listening devices also have improved greatly over the last decade in function as well as fashion.
Signs of age-related hearing loss include:
Having trouble following a group conversation;
Often thinking people are mumbling;
Asking people to repeat things;
Having trouble understanding higher voices like those of women and children;
Having trouble understanding conversations on the phone;
Becoming stressed at or avoiding large gatherings because of difficulty hearing in crowds;
Ringing in the ears;
Dizziness, loss of balance or vertigo;
Comments from others that your or your loved one’s TV, radio or stereo is loud; and
Ears that itch, hurt or leak fluid.
Other factors that can contribute to hearing loss include a family history of hearing loss, diabetes, heart disease, or circulation or thyroid issues.
If any of these warning signs describe your or your loved one’s experience, seek medical attention from a physician who will be able to evaluate symptoms and determine whether one or more of the following specialists should be seen:
An otolaryngologist, a physician specializing in the ears, nose and throat (ENT);
An audiologist, a healthcare professional who specializes in identifying auditory disorders, treating them with hearing aids or other devices and monitoring hearing issues; or
A hearing instrument specialist, a licensed professional who can test hearing and select and fit hearing aids.
Taking care of hearing issues makes a huge difference in the quality of life, health and the ability to remain independent. Regular hearing check-ups are an important part of aging well.