Losing one of your senses greatly impacts how you live and the quality of your life. Adjusting to losing your hearing is common in old age, and caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Prevention includes limiting your exposure to noisy or loud environments or reducing your time spent with loud machinery and power tools. If this is not possible, such as in the workplace, you should bring protective ear equipment with you like sound cancelling headphones or ear plugs.
Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is normal and impacts 35% of adults over 65 and 40-50% of adults over 75. Almost all of the seniors aged 94 and older live with hearing loss. You are likely to lose some of your hearing ability compared to when you were young. Unfortunately, a lot of people ignore ear protection and suffer from hearing loss in old age. We explore the causes and effects of hearing loss as the population of seniors over 65 is growing more than ever before.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss in Old Age
Hearing loss usually occurs around the age of 65. You may experience hearing impairment earlier if you were constantly exposed to loud, high frequency sounds throughout your life at work, home, during concerts, or via headphones. Men are more likely than women to experience hearing loss—63% of Canadian men have hearing loss compared to only 46% of Canadian women. However, women tend to have more difficulty hearing lower frequencies as they age than men do.
Hearing loss is caused by changes to your inner ear structure due to wear and tear. Over time, exposure to loud noises can damage your cochlea, where nerves are responsible for transmitting information to your brain. When this happens, electrical signals are blocked from being received and you lose some of your hearing. Low background noises can seem amplified and make it difficult for you to hear the conversation in front of you. You may be able to pick out bits and pieces, but do not have enough information to give a correct response.
While some people are genetically predisposed to losing their hearing, you can limit your chances by limited exposure to noisy environments. Be aware of loud noise whether you are at home, at work, in your car, or relaxing by watching television. This could save your hearing in old age.
- Lower of sound of any audio devices including television, radio, music players, computers, tablets
- Try not to increase the volume above 50% of full capacity when possible
- When using in-ear headphones, you should lower the sound so that you would still be able to hear if someone called your name
- Wear over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones when operating heavy machinery, firearms, power tools or loud household appliances
- This includes outdoor power equipment like electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers or when operating vehicles with loud motors like speed boats, snow mobiles, and jet skis
- Bring your own ear protection to your workplace if there is excess noise
- Avoid using a cotton swab in your ears as it could push earwax deeper or damage your eardrums
- Instead, clean your ears gently or see your doctor about ear wax removal procedures
- See your doctor to have your hearing tested to prevent further damage
Effects of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be frustrating to adjust to, especially in the beginning. You can see that the other person’s mouth is moving and you know they are speaking, but you cannot understand what they are saying. Generally, seniors with impaired hearing can no longer hear high-pitched sounds like bird noises but can hear low-pitched sounds like bass drums. See your doctor or physician for a diagnosis if you experience a change in your hearing levels. Symptoms to look for include
- Hearing mumbling or slurring when people are talking directly to you
- Asking others to speak up or to repeat themselves often
- Being unable to distinguish noises from your conversation and the background noise
Some seniors spiral into depression when they lose their hearing because it is difficult to cope with the new reality. The same seniors are not likely to participate in social events or shy away from their social groups due to shame or embarrassment. Seniors with hearing loss can suffer from lack self worth, feel more confused in their day-to-day interactions and appear less confident than they were before. Hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline in seniors.
How Seniors can Cope with Hearing Loss
Hearing aids can have a negative stigma among seniors because they feel like it is embarrassing to wear one or it shows their age. In Canada, only 1 in every 6 Canadians with hearing loss reported that they use a hearing aid. Over half of Canadians between the ages of 40-79 had mild hearing loss when tested in the high frequency range.
However, hearing aids can make it easier to communicate by allowing you to hear conversations in quiet and in loud settings. They can be costly, so look into your health insurance to see if it is covered. Take your time when searching for a hearing aid, and consult your doctor first. They can refer you to an ears, nose and throat specialist who can assess your needs.
Focus on one conversation at a time
When possible, limit the background noises in your setting. You could move to a different room, lower the volume on the television when speaking on the phone, or turn off the car radio when ordering in drive-thru. These little adjustments can reduce your social anxiety, give you back control, and prevent background noise from cluttering your hearing.
- Reduce background noise when possible
- Step into a quiet area to have conversations
- Ask for a quiet section when dining out and avoid dinner rush times at popular restaurants whenever possible
- Practice self-regulating your emotions and calming methods like meditation to reduce your social anxiety and improve self confidence
Find a companion
Seniors with hearing loss can feel isolated from their community including from their close family and friends. They may feel like they are being annoying by constantly asking questions or asking for something to be repeated. Companion services can help older adults struggling with hearing loss relearn how to communicate calmly and effectively. Companions are patient and can help with socialization without outside social pressures. You can find help near you by browsing platforms like Caremada that can connect you to service providers in your area.