February 3, 2011

USA: Hard of Hearing or is Everyone Else Mumbling?

VANCOUVER, British Columbia / Suite101 / Health & Wellness / February 3, 2011

Learn the signs and symptoms of hearing loss, a common condition that few people recognize in themselves in early stages, suggests

Katrena Wells
SeniorsHealth Features Writer 

Approximately 35 million people in the United States have some type of hearing loss. Many people suffer hearing loss due to a variety of reasons; however, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health educational series on hearing loss, less than 40% of people aged 70 and older have had their hearing tested in the last five years. Those who discover a hearing loss may find more options than expected for reversing or dealing with this common condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Suddenly losing the ability to hear is often noticed by the person who has become hard of hearing as well as those around her. However, many times the loss of one’s hearing occurs gradually, often over years, as with a type of hearing loss called presbycusis. Another common type of hearing loss in seniors involves tinnitus. This type of hearing problem is often described as ringing or hissing in the ears, yet many times a person with tinnitus has learned to tune out or ignore the constant noise that only he can hear.

Photo by Oregon Advisory Council on Hearing Aids

Examples of signs that a person may have hearing loss include:

• frequently asking other people to repeat what they are saying
• misunderstanding conversations and responding inappropriately
• feeling as if others are mumbling rather than speaking clearly
• having difficulty hearing in settings with background noises or where multiple conversations are occurring simultaneously
• straining to hear others speaking
• turning up the volume on the television or radio to a level that others feel is too loud
• frequently hearing ringing, roaring, or hissing sounds
• feeling as if certain sounds are too loud
• not hearing someone else speak clearly if one cannot see his or her lips as he or she talks

Hearing Loss May Affect Relationships and Social Activities

The person who is hard of hearing has often learned to compensate for the loss of hearing and may not realize to what extend his or her hearing is affected. High frequency sounds are often affected first, which may result in difficulty hearing the voices of women and children in particular. The person who is hard of hearing will often ensure that she is close to and facing the person with whom she is talking but may be unable to hear someone who is speaking behind her or who is in another room. Others who have a hearing deficit may compensate by avoiding conversations in crowded areas such as restaurants or worship services.

Many times the person with hearing loss may experience strained relationships. At times the person may be accused of not listening, being confused or having early Alzheimer's, being unreasonable, or making up false information. For example, a constant battle may erupt regarding the volume on the TV. Another example might be a heated discussion when a spouse in another room says, “Did you get your tooth fixed?” The person with a hearing deficit might hear “Did you get toothpicks?” An argument might quickly escalate as to why the spouse did not put toothpicks on the grocery list when he knew that she was going to the dentist.

Unfortunately, hearing deficits may affect many areas of a person's life, particularly when coupled with other common issues with aging, such as problems with sight. For example, a senior may be unable to clearly hear directions given by a healthcare provider. If the written directions are too small for him to see, he may take medications improperly, miss important appointments, or misunderstand directions for treatment. Hearing loss can also lead to dangerous situations, such as the inability to hear a smoke alarm.

Hearing Loss in Seniors
Hearing loss is a common problem in older adults, yet it may be unrecognized by the person who is hard of hearing. The loss of hearing may affect many areas of the person’s life and can cause strained relationships or lead to misunderstandings. Knowing the most common signs of a hearing deficit may encourage a person to set up an appointment to have his or her hearing tested and then explore options for treatment.

Readers may also wish to read:
• What Causes Hearing Loss?
Hearing Loss Linked to Diabetes – A Guide for Seniors
Diabetes Information That Could Save a Life...Even if You Don't Have Diabetes
Swimmer’s Ear – Risks, Symptoms, and Treatments
Ear Candles May Cause Injuries
Inner Ear Anatomy and Physiology – The Basics
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease or is Confusion Normal With Age
Safe Use of Medications and OTC Meds

• American Diabetes Association's "Diabetes and Hearing Loss" accessed on February 1, 2011.
• American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s “Causes of Hearing Loss in Adults” accessed on February 3, 2011.
• National Institute of Health’s SeniorHealth “Hearing Loss” accessed on February 1, 2011.
• National Institute of Health’s “Hearing Disorders and Deafness” accessed on February 3, 2011.

Copyright: Katrena Wells, Author