Changes that occur in our ears can make it harder to hear as we grow older. Exposure to noise, both on the job and during our leisure hours, adds to the problem. So by the time we turn 65, we have a 30 percent chance of suffering significant hearing loss. By age 75, half of us will have hearing problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that hearing loss often goes undiagnosed. Even if their doctor tells them their hearing is affected, many seniors fail to seek treatment. Or maybe they purchase hearing aids, only to leave the devices collecting dust at the back of a dresser drawer.
If you or an older loved one are in this situation, it’s important to know the huge impact hearing loss can have on quality of life. It can cause seniors to withdraw socially and sink into depression. Experts from the University of British Columbia found that for every 10 decibel drop in hearing sensitivity, the odds of becoming socially isolated increase by 52 percent! Study author Dr. Paul Mick reported, “As social isolation has been shown to have similar impacts on mortality rates as smoking and alcohol consumption, this is something we should examine further at both the system and individual patient level.”
And did you know that hearing loss has been found to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Experts say that a constant struggle to hear adds to our “cognitive load”—as our brain works harder to interpret diminished sound input, it can’t attend to other thinking and memory tasks. A study from Johns Hopkins University also found that hearing loss is linked to faster age-related shrinkage of the brain.
Hearing loss also raises the risk of falls. In March 2018, experts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital noted that people with untreated hearing loss are almost twice as likely to suffer a fall injury. With hearing loss, we have less “input” from our environment, the many subtle sounds that tell us where we are in space. And struggling to hear distracts us, making us more likely to miss a crack in the pavement or uneven stair step.
Seniors should be regularly screened for hearing loss. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with hearing loss, treatment is available—and don’t put it off! The longer you wait, the more your brain will lose the ability to process and understand sounds.
A certified audiologist can prescribe hearing aids and, just as important, provide support during the adjustment period. University of Missouri professor Kari Lane explained, “Those with hearing aids currently sitting in drawers should seek assistance in getting their hearing aids to work for them. They should go back to their audiologist for a readjustment and keep going back until it works. Often, it may take six to ten times to get a hearing aid adjusted perfectly.”
Families can help, too. Ask your loved one’s doctor for tips on communicating with a person who is hard of hearing. Here is a list of suggestions from the University of California, San Francisco Audiology Clinic.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Ask your doctor to check your hearing regularly.