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Hearing Loss in the Elderly

Dealing with hearing loss in seniors 

Do you find the TV very loud when you go to visit your parent? Do you find him or her asking more often than before for you to repeat yourself? If so, your aging parent is likely among the millions of elderly experiencing hearing loss. According to a recent study published in Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, more than 2 million Americans over the age of 70 have experienced some degree of hearing loss, making it one of the most common chronic conditions of the elderly.

"More than 2 million Americans over the age of 70 have experienced some degree of hearing loss." – Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery

Hearing loss can lead to depression for the elderly as they withdraw from social situations where they cannot participate in conversations, or hear a lecture, play, or movie. It can lead to isolation and loneliness. But it does not have to be that way. There are many effective treatments available today for hearing loss.

Treatments for hearing loss

As with any chronic and progressive degenerative illness, the earlier hearing loss is treated, the more effective the treatment can be. As soon as hearing loss in an elderly individual is suspected, he or she should be seen by a physician and have his or her hearing screened by an audiologist. There may be a simple medical reason with a simple solution for the hearing loss, such as wax build-up in the ear. No matter what the eventual cause is at the root of the hearing loss, the earlier it is detected, the better. And the sooner assistive devices – hearing aids – are used, the better.

Hearing aids

The right hearing aid depends on the individual and the degree or type of hearing loss. Some may get by with simple, less sophisticated devices that just amplify all sound in less challenging hearing environments; others may require more sophisticated technologies to do a better job in more complex hearing environments by amplifying specific frequencies of sound. For those with significant hearing loss, a good hearing aid fitting can be as difficult as getitng the right pair of glasses, so it is important that you work with the recommendations of an audiologist or other qualified professional. Hearing aids range in cost from the inexpensive, simple amplification to more expensive ones with very sophisticated digital sound processing. The size of the hearing aid can also have a bearing on the cost. Hearing aids are now available in small, open-fit models, which most people find to be a more comfortable hearing experience.

With the advent of the latest digital hearing aids, the senior with hearing loss has a broad range of devices to choose from. There are hearing aids that fit around the ear, the more traditional type that fit within the bowl of the ear, and units that are so small and fit so deep within the ear canal that they are barely perceptible.

Cochlear implants

For individuals with sudden or progressive, severe to profound hearing loss due illness or disease, cochlear implants can significantly improve quality of life. According to a study done at Johns Hopkins of patients 14 to 91 years old, "age at implant was not predictive of postoperative performance on word recognition tests." Should your parent be faced with sudden deafness, it is important to address the hearing problem quickly. According to Dr. William Shapiro, director of audiology at New York University, "The shorter the period of deafness, the better the outcome for individuals with cochlear implants."