Guidance on managing age related hearing loss

28th September 2011

Why Should You Pay Attention To The Signs

Age related hearing loss left without proper care can lead to various other problems besides the most obvious effect of not hearing as well as before. Common issues include social exclusion and reduced interaction with others, feelings of anxiety, worry or even depression; all contributing to diminished quality of life. Understanding the cause of hearing loss and managing the condition through the care of a health care provider can alleviate or prevent these unwanted problems.

The Cause Of Age Related Hearing Loss

Most people will experience hearing loss as we age, but with varying degrees of severity.
Our hearing is aided by tiny hair-cells within the inner ear which help capture sound waves and deliver information via the hearing nerve pathways to the brain for interpretation. There are thousands of hair-cells in the human ear. As the body ages, these tiny hair-cells can deteriorate and die; which can lead to a reduction in both hearing sensitivity and clarity. Unfortunately this deterioration is irreversible, and often happens to the same extent in both ears.

What Are The Common Signs

Common signs of age related hearing loss include struggling to hear within background noise;
having to have words or sentences repeated; having the TV turned up more than others in the same room; mens’ voices are easier to hear than womens’ voices; confusion over high-pitched speech sounds such as “s” and “th” and feeling tired after conversations. Feeling exhausted after conducting a conversion may lead to social exclusion as it becomes ‘tempting’ to simply avoid interaction.

Options and Management

The first step is to find the reason and extent for any the hearing loss. While age related hearing loss is irreversible, other contributing factors or causes such as infection or medically based issues can be treated. A build up of wax for example can have an effect on hearing levels, and is easily identified and treated.

A diagnostic hearing test will show the extent of any present hearing loss, and how much each ear is affected. Hearing tests are available through the NHS, via a referral from your GP or nursing home physician, or by attending a local hearing centre directly. Once the cause is found and the degree of hearing loss is established, there will be a number of recommendations and options.

The most common aids are digital hearing aids. Available privately or from the NHS at no cost (waiting lists may apply), these tiny computers amplify external sound and deliver the sound into the ear canal of the wearer. They vary in style, and may be fitted completely inside the ear or sit outside the ear. Assistive listening device may also be helpful – these refer to devices that we all use on a daily basis, but developed with extra amplification in mind. E.g. alarm clocks and doorbells and amplified telephones and mobiles. Based on the level of hearing loss, all these devices or just some could be used to manage the condition.

If you have any concerns about your hearing or you care for someone who is showing signs of hearing loss, consult with your health care provider.

Article for Caring Homes by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology of Hearing Direct, Hampshire based company offering ALDs (Assistive Listening Devices) from deaf alarm clock to alerting aids.

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