December 18, 2018

Portrait of an older mother and daughter

Helping loved ones with hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is one of the most common senior health conditions, affecting approximately one in three adults in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74. This type of gradual hearing loss can impact nearly every aspect of life, making it difficult for older adults to understand instructions, hear alarms or doorbells, and follow conversations with family and friends.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to detect the signs of age-related hearing loss. More often than not, behavioral changes will indicate a senior parent or loved one has a hearing issue. For example, you may notice that an older loved one has trouble understanding conversations or suddenly avoids social settings with large groups of people.

How do you know when you should be concerned about a senior parent or loved one’s hearing? Watch for these common signs of age-related hearing loss.

  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
  • Setting television or radio volume very loud
  • Trouble hearing in environments with a lot of background noise, such as restaurants
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • Misunderstanding what others say
  • Complaining that others seem to mumble
  • Dizziness, pain, or ringing in the ears
  • Noticeable negative changes in personality, such as depression, irritability, decreased extraversion, and loneliness.

If you notice these or other signs of hearing loss in your senior loved one, ask them to make an appointment with their audiologist to ensure they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. With proper treatment, seniors with hearing loss can often maintain their independence for longer.

If a hearing issue isn’t diagnosed and treated, it can actually damage parts of the brain related to hearing. In fact, research finds that adults who have untreated hearing loss experience cognitive decline at a rate of 30 to 40 percent faster than adults without hearing loss.

There are several reasons why researchers think hearing loss may be linked to cognitive decline:

  1. Cognitive overload – As hearing becomes impaired, the brain has to work harder to compensate and focus on hearing. This may result in a decline in cognitive health.
  2. Social isolation – Untreated hearing loss may cause seniors to avoid socializing with others, which is recognized as a risk factor for dementia.
  3. Brain atrophy – Without enough stimulation to the areas of the brain related to hearing, certain structures of brain cells may shrink.

Encourage your senior parent or loved one to schedule an annual hearing exam to detect any potential hearing issues. With early intervention, hearing loss can be treated, helping your older loved one protect their independence and improve their overall quality of life.