Millions of older Americans experience hearing loss. Exactly how many is difficult to determine since many seniors minimize difficulties associated with aging. It is estimated that one–third of those between the ages of 65 and 75, and one–half of those over 75 have some degree of hearing loss. It is expected that with the aging of baby boomers, the number of people with hearing loss will double by the year 2030. Jump to Seniors and Hearing Loss for more information.
The loss of hearing that gradually occurs during the aging process is called presbycusis. After age 50, there may be a slow decline of hearing each year. Just as hair turns gray at different rates in different people, presbycusis develops at different rates as well. Generally, the person first loses the ability to hear sounds in the high–pitched range. There may be difficulty understanding the voices of children and women, hearing a phone ring, a bird chirp, or the high pitched “beep” of many home appliances. Background noise may make it even harder to understand conversations. Men are affected more often and more severely than woman.
See the article Hearing loss hits aging baby boomers on this web site.
Many seniors seek treatment or methods for coping with hearing loss. Others ignore or deny difficulty hearing and communicating with family and friends. If hearing loss is left untreated, it can lead to other problems. Persons who cannot hear well may become depressed and withdraw from social contacts to avoid the embarrassment and frustration of not understanding conversation. Some become suspicious, or hostile, toward friends and relatives who they believe mumble or do not speak up, solely to keep them out of a conversation. In addition, longstanding, untreated hearing loss may decrease the ability to discriminate speech sounds if hearing aids are finally obtained.
The following are some of the common signs of hearing loss:
- Difficulty following and participating in conversation, especially when there is background noise
- Poor attention; is easily distracted
- Poor attention; easily distracted
- Indifference, social withdrawal, signs of insecurity
- Ability to hear a man’s voice easier than the voice of a woman or child
- Complaints that the speech of others is mumbled or slurred
- Difficulty understanding what is being said
- Complaints that some sounds are annoying or overly loud
- A ringing, roaring, or hissing sound in one or both ears
If hearing loss is suspected, consult the family doctor. The doctor may make a referral to an otolaryngologist or ENT, a physician specializing in ear, nose and throat problems. The next referral will be to an audiologist or hearing aid dealer who will evaluate for hearing aids.
Seniors should request a hearing test every five years as a routine measure. Admittance to a nursing home should include a hearing test along with other medical tests, especially when dementia or senility is suspected, and is the primary reason for admission. Untreated severe hearing loss may mimic the symptoms of early stage dementia.
The following links offer additional options and resources:
Hearing loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. The strain of struggling to hear, to remain involved with friends and family when simple conversation is so difficult, can be exhausting. Communication difficulties affect not only the person with the hearing loss but their family and friends as well. Wearing hearing aids, using hearing assistive technology, and learning coping strategies, can make life easier and more enjoyable for the person with hearing loss and for those who love them.
The following suggestions from The National Institute on Aging will help to improve communication:
- Tell others that you have a hearing loss.
- Ask others to face you, speak more slowly and clearly, and not to shout.
- Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
- Let the person talking know if you do not understand what is being said; ask for the statement to be repeated or reworded.
For additional information, see these sections of E–Michigan:
Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
Accommodations for Better Communication
Organizations for Seniors
Mental Health: Coping with Hearing Loss
Deaf Seniors share many of the concerns for communication access and community as the general Deaf population. In addition, most senior citizens in the United States share concerns about housing, health care, continued contribution to family and community, and end of life issues. Deaf seniors are particularly vulnerable in systems that are under staffed, under funded, and lack knowledge of the communication needs of deaf citizens.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf makes the following recommendations (very applicable in the U.S.A.) to meet the needs of Deaf senior citizens. To read the entire position statement CLICK HERE.
“We make the following recommendations:
- Federal, provincial, and municipal governments must combine efforts and resources to create at least one large senior citizens residence for Deaf people in every province, and preferably in every major city, throughout the nation.
- Laws governing nursing homes and retirement residences must be amended to require visual alarm systems, TTY phones, visual safety and communication measures (such as two–way light–switches for bedrooms and bathrooms), and TV caption decoders left permanently “on”.
- Anyone wishing to work in senior citizens health care services must be required to take basic courses in Sign language and Deaf culture.
- It must be made mandatory that a Sign language interpreter be provided at a competency assessment for any Deaf person, especially a Deaf senior citizen.
- Funding and logistical support must be provided for the continuation of the national network of Deaf caregivers and advocates to assist Deaf seniors, including “hunters” authorized to enter any retirement or nursing home or mental health facility to seek out mis–diagnosed Deaf persons.
- Funding and human resources must be provided for workshops and one–to–one assistance (conducted in Sign) to Deaf seniors in matters such as end–of–life issues, will–making, abuse, and rights.
- Hospice and palliative care must be designated as a core health service and provided with appropriate funding. This funding must include monies for the provision of support services and assistive devices dedicated to the needs of Deaf clients.
The Michigan Aging Services System (MASS) website, designed in 1995, is sponsored by the Office of Services to the Aging (OSA), Michigan Department of Community Health. The purpose of the original MASS website was to assist primarily human services workers in the field of aging.
Over time, the audience for online resources provided through the state Office on Aging has grown to include senior citizens, adults caring for elderly persons, adult children concerned about their aging parents or relatives, persons interested in aging issues, and the general public which may or may not have a developed understanding of aging and its processes.
The Office on Aging’s vision for MiSeniors.net has been to build an elderly and long–term care services portal giving all visitors access to a wealth of current information and supportive services.
For more information, check the Web site http://www.miseniors.net or write:
Michigan Office of Services to the Aging
P.O. Box 30676
Lansing, Michigan 48909–8176