Have you noticed that it’s harder to hear people talk in noisy places or that it’s harder to decipher familiar sounds, such as water running? After years of hearing normally, you may be experiencing age-related hearing loss, known medically as presbycusis.
As you age, your middle ear also ages. The cochlear hair cells in the ear may become damaged or the nerve pathways leading to the brain may become altered, often a result of repeated exposure to daily noise or loud music. Along with aging, other factors can contribute to such “sensorineural” hearing loss, including heredity, various health conditions (heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure), and side effects of medications, especially aspirin and certain antibiotics.
About one third of adults aged 65 – 75 years, and fully half of persons older than 75, have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. This process begins gradually, even in middle age, so you may not even realize your hearing is diminishing.
Sounds often become less clear and lower in volume. This contributes to difficulties such as the following:
- The speech of others seems mumbled or slurred.
- High-pitched sounds are difficult to hear and tell apart. Conversations are hard to understand, especially when there is background noise.
- Certain sounds seem annoying or overly loud.
- Tinnitus (ringing, roaring, or hissing in one or both ears) may occur.
What can be done about age-related hearing loss? First, prevention! Be aware of potential sources of these damaging noises–such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, woodworking machinery, and loud appliances. Earplugs or special fluid-filled earmuffs can give protection against them.
Assistive listening devices, like a hearing aid or built-in telephone amplifier, can improve your ability to hear in certain situations. Another device is an FM system that makes sounds clearer by delivering sound waves like a radio.
If you have a hearing loss or know someone who does, share these tips:
- When speaking, face the person who has the hearing loss.
During conversations, turn off background noise such as television sets.
- Avoid speaking while chewing food or covering your mouth.
- Speak slightly louder than normal but don’t shout (which distorts speech).
- Speak at your normal rate, do not exaggerate sounds, and lower the pitch of your voice.
- Clue the person with the hearing loss about the topic of conversation.
- Rephrase statements into shorter, simpler sentences when you are not being understood.
- In social gatherings, choose seats away from crowded or noisy areas.
As a member of the Health Alliance’s Senior Care Preferred Plus Program, you can receive discounts on all types of hearing aids. Plus, you can receive a comprehensive audiological evaluation at a savings off the regular price. Hearing aid batteries and repair services are also available at competitive prices. Batteries can even be mailed to your home.
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