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Good hearing never gets old

Hearing loss can create a number of problems for an older person, but help is available. When properly diagnosed, most people with hearing loss can be treated.

We expect our bodies to change as we age. Some of these changes are relatively easy to accept or adjust to, but others, such as hearing loss, can make life harder every day.

Often out of fear or vanity, people are reluctant to admit they have a hearing problem. Communication becomes difficult, and they may withdraw from social situations and activities they once enjoyed. Individuals with hearing loss can be left feeling lonely, misunderstood and depressed.

But with proper diagnosis, proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments, many people can learn to live well with hearing loss.

Types of hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sounds are blocked as they travel between the eardrum and the inner ear. Earwax buildup, a problem with the bones in the middle ear, or fluid or infection in the middle ear are among the possible causes of conductive hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the auditory nerve or parts of the inner ear are damaged. Exposure to noise or a genetic predisposition are among the things that may contribute to this hearing problem.

Auditory neuropathy is a problem that results when sound enters the ear normally but the brain cannot understand it. It occurs when hair cells in the inner ear or the nerve that leads to the brain is damaged.  

Recognizing impaired hearing

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), you may have a hearing problem if:

  • You have a hard time understanding speech, especially when there is background noise.
  • You think some sounds seem distorted or annoying.
  • You sometimes hear hissing or ringing sounds in your ears.
  • You enjoy TV shows, concerts or social gatherings less because you can't hear well.

Treating impaired hearing

If you suspect a hearing loss, see your doctor. After a diagnosis, treatment depends on the type of hearing loss you have.

In some cases, removing impacted earwax or having surgery may restore some or all of your hearing.

Many times, hearing aids are recommended. An audiologist will evaluate your case and help you choose the hearing aid that's best for you.

Some people may also benefit from being trained in speech reading. This is a method of understanding speech by watching lip movements, facial expressions and gestures.

Finally, when possible, you can help yourself by eliminating background noise, such as music or televisions, when carrying on a conversation. You can also tell people about your hearing problem. This will often help make communication easier.

Helping someone with a hearing loss

If someone you know has a hearing problem, you can improve communication by following these suggestions from the NIA and NIDCD:

  • Speak at your normal rate, and don't overarticulate. It can distort speech sounds and make it difficult to recognize visual clues.
  • Speak to the person in a place where he or she can clearly see your lip movements. Don't eat, chew or cover your mouth while speaking.
  • If the listener doesn't understand what you said, rephrase it in short, simple sentences.
  • Include the person with hearing loss in any discussion about him or her. This helps diminish feelings of isolation.

Reviewed 12/21/2022

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.