When I was younger, I thought there was nothing better than having music blasting in my ears. I was warned repeatedly by “old folks” that my hearing could be damaged if I didn’t stop. I ignored the warnings, and now at middle age, I find myself saying “What?” way too often.
According to the National Institute on Aging, one of the most common causes for hearing loss is loud noises, such as music, lawn mowing, snowblowing and a host of other activities. Some medical problems such as strokes, heart conditions, ear wax build-up or even certain medications can cause hearing loss, too.
Whether slight or severe, hearing loss can have serious ramifications on quality of life and safety, such as causing a person to withdraw from social interactions or become unable to hear a smoke alarm.
The National Institute on Aging website recommends seeing a health care provider if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
— Having trouble hearing over the telephone.
— Finding it hard to follow conversations when more than one person is talking.
— Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
— Turning up the TV volume so loud that others complain.
— Having problems hearing because of background noise.
— Thinking that others seem to mumble.
— Difficulty understanding voices in the higher register, such as women’s or children’s.
There are two common causes of hearing loss in seniors: presbycusis (prez-bee-KYOO-sis) that comes on gradually with the aging process and varies in severity from person to person, and tinnitus (TIH-nih-tuhs or tih-NIE-tuhs), known as ringing in the ears, although it can include roaring or hissing noises as well.
Don’t be shy. Let people know you’re having trouble hearing, ask them to face you when speaking and to speak slowly and clearly. Pay close attention, not just to the words being spoken but also to facial expressions and gestures.
The National Institute on Aging offers tips to help you compensate for hearing loss. If you find you need a hearing aid, get one. Some seniors get squeamish over the prospect of a hearing aid yet have no problem with wearing glasses. Like glasses, hearing aids are just tools to enhance your quality of life.
The cost is another matter, since hearing aids are not covered by Medicare. But there is hope. Sam’s Club offers free hearing tests, no membership required, and reasonably priced hearing aids.
For more information about hearing loss, visit nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hearing-loss. Call your doctor for an evaluation if you’re having troubling hearing everything you should. Don’t suffer in silence.
Carol Higgins Taylor is the director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.