Living with age-related hearing loss

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Huh? What? Could you repeat that?

If you catch yourself uttering these phrases on a regular basis, you might have hearing loss. Especially common in older people, the condition is highly treatable and nothing to be ashamed of. Read on to learn more about age-related hearing loss, when and why to see a doctor, and the many options you have to address the issue. 

What is age-related hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a common phenomenon in older adults. The condition, called presbycusis when the hearing loss is age-related, appears in 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65. Symptoms often begin small and gradually worsen over the years. 

Causes for hearing loss can vary but are most often associated with changes in the inner ear. Small hairs that function as sensory receptors are located in the inner ear. Damage to these hairs is irreversible, which is why hearing loss caused by this damage is not curable.

Risk factors include family history, the use of certain medications, and most importantly, exposure to loud sounds. Even if hearing loss is already present, it’s important to protect your hearing by wearing hearing protection around loud machinery such as lawnmowers, at events like concerts, and at locations like gun ranges to prevent further damage.

When to see a doctor

People with mild to moderate hearing loss might first notice difficulty distinguishing certain consonants like s, h, and f. This means words like “Simon” and “diamond” sound the same. Women’s and children’s voices, which tend to be higher pitched, are also more difficult to hear. It’s no coincidence that women might notice their husband’s hearing loss before he does. In general, high-frequency hearing loss affects more men than women.

It is recommended to make an appointment with an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist if you have to frequently ask people to repeat themselves, avoid conversations with strangers, or don’t hear high-pitched sounds like birds chirping or the beeping of appliances.

During your appointment, a hearing healthcare provider will ask you about your hearing, administer a hearing test, and examine your ears. If hearing loss is present, your doctor will go over the hearing solutions available to you.

Untreated hearing loss is associated with a higher risk of developing depression and dementia, so it is important to seek treatment when symptoms appear.

Hearing aids and alternatives

While age-related hearing loss is not curable, there are different types of hearing aids and technology that makes living with the condition easier and reconnect you to your loved ones.

In-ear hearing aids are a common way to treat mild to moderate hearing loss. Many different types and styles exist that make it easy to find the right pair. Professionally fitted hearing aids range in price from $5,000 to $10,000 and are often only partially or not at all covered by health insurance. In recent years, more over-the-counter hearing aids have popped up. These are generally more affordable, but the many different options might be difficult to navigate on your own.

Cochlear implants are a surgical solution and are generally reserved for severe to profound hearing loss. If you’re a candidate for this type of device, your doctor will go over your personal risks and benefits with you.

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) are worn in the ear similarly to hearing aids. In contrast to hearing aids, which are tuned to a person’s specific hearing loss, PSAPs amplify all sounds around the wearer. They are sold in stores and online and cannot be called hearing aids. PSAPs can be a good solution for some people, but it is still recommended to see a hearing specialist before buying a pair.

Neosensory Clarify is a wristband rather than an in-ear hearing aid. Clarify is fitted with four small, vibrating motors along the band, which are programmed to respond to high-frequency sounds around the wearer. Each sound is translated into a unique combination of vibrations. Over time, the wearer’s brain learns to interpret these patterns and regains an understanding of hard-to-hear sounds. Users are especially drawn to Clarify’s discreet design and affordable price point.

Making communication easier

Learning to navigate hearing loss is an ongoing journey for you and others around you. No matter how you choose to address the condition, there are things you can do to keep the conversation with others around you going.

Be open with your friends and family. Most people are happy to make small adjustments to make communication easier for both sides, but they need to know about it.

Make sure to face others when speaking with them. This ensures you have the other person’s full attention and can read their lips if this makes understanding them easier for you.

Turn down background noise. Turn down the tv, radio, or any other background noise that interferes with listening to the person in front of you.

Ask others to speak more clearly, but not louder. Speaking at a loud volume over long periods of time can be exhausting for the other person. Speaking more clearly is easier on them and still helps you understand them better.

Repeat information back rather than asking “What?” This not only guarantees you correctly understand the other person, especially when it comes to important information like numbers and dates, but also shows that you’re making an effort to hear the other person.

Next steps

If you suspect having hearing loss we recommend reaching out to your doctor or audiologist. You can also make a virtual appointment with our partners at Treble Health to speak to an audiologist without leaving the comfort of your home.