Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately 20 percent, or 45 million, of American adults say that they have some degree of hearing loss. There is a strong relationship between age and hearing problems. Nearly half of all Americans older than 65 have some level of hearing impairment.

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noises.

Overview of Hearing Loss

Types of Hearing Loss

Presbycusis

This form is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older.

Presbycusis can occur because of changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear. Some of its causes are aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure.

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Tinnitus

Tinnitus, also common in older people, is the ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears frequently caused by exposure to loud noise or certain medicines. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, so it can accompany any type of hearing loss.

Tinnitus can also be a sign of other important health problems, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels. Tinnitus can come and go, or it can persist or stop altogether.

Read more on Tinnitus

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

There are two general categories of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is permanent.

Conductive Hearing

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical or surgical treatment can usually restore conductive hearing loss.

When to Get a Hearing Test

If signs and symptoms are present in an elderly person, it is best for him or her to have a complete evaluation to establish the extent of the impairment and ensure there is no acute medical basis for the hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Specialists

There are two primary hearing health care providers that can evaluate and determine the need for rehabilitation. The otolaryngologist or ENT is a physician specially trained in the medical diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ear, nose and throat. They can provide a thorough medical evaluation and rule out any potentially treatable conditions that may be causing hearing loss such as cerumen or wax in the ear canal or ear infections.

The audiologist is skilled at the measurement of hearing ability and the provision of rehabilitative services that include the fitting of hearing aids and hearing assistive technology systems. Once medically cleared, the audiologist can help the patient decide on the appropriate hearing aids necessary and assist them in learning the operation and maintenance of amplification systems.

Buying a Hearing Aid

Many people with presbyopias report they hear well in some acoustic conditions and frequently will say things like "I hear you but I don't understand you." Certainly when speaking in a perfectly quiet room, hearing may be more successful for many. Unfortunately, we do not always communicate in a nice quiet room and there is plenty of noise in most our daily environments. Choosing the right type of hearing aid will help the elderly person overcome these challenges.

When someone begins to consider a hearing aid, one must remember that they have probably been living with this hearing loss for many years and adjustment may take some time. It is part of the audiologist's role to help their patients accept the need for hearing aids and begin the steps toward rehabilitation. This counseling component is crucial to a successful hearing aid fit.

While there are a variety of assistive hearing devices available to make sound louder, it is most important that proper communication techniques be practiced in order to maximize hearing and listening performance.

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