Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 has difficulty hearing. But some people may not want to admit they have trouble hearing. Older people who can’t hear well may become depressed or may withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said. Sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative because they don’t hear well. 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.
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 usually permanent.
- Conductive Hearing Loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax buildup, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery can usually restore conductive hearing loss.
One type of hearing loss, called presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person ages. It seems to run in families and may occur because of changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. Having presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying. Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the loss is gradual, someone with presbycusis may not realize that he or she has lost some of his or her ability to hear.
Tinnitus, also common in older people, is typically described as ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It can come and go. It might be heard in one or both ears, and it may be loud or soft. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss and can be a sign of other health problems, such as high blood pressure or allergies, or a side effect of medications. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus, but it can also be the result of a number of health conditions.
If you notice signs of hearing loss, talk to your doctor. If you have trouble hearing, you should:
- Let people know you have a hearing problem.
- Ask people to face you and to speak more slowly and clearly. Also, ask them to speak louder without shouting.
- Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
- Let the person talking know if you do not understand what he or she said.
- Ask the person speaking to reword a sentence and try again.