I remember my mother predicting that my hearing could be in danger if I didn’t turn down the music. Turns out she was right.

Now, at middle age, I find myself saying “What?” more often. I always assumed everyone was mumbling, but perhaps not.

According to the National Institute on Aging, one of the most common causes of hearing loss is loud noise. Music qualifies, as does lawn mowing, snow blowing, and a host of other activities. Other reasons for hearing loss include some medical problems, such as strokes, heart conditions, ear wax build up, or even certain medications.

There are two common causes of hearing loss in seniors: presbycusis (prez-bee-KYOO-sis), which comes on gradually with aging and varies in severity from person to person, and tinnitus (TIH-nih-tuhs or tih-NIE-tuhs), which is known as ringing in the ears, although can include roaring or hissing noises as well.

Whether hearing loss is slight or severe, it can have serious ramifications on a person’s quality of life and safety. People who can’t hear well may withdraw from social interactions or miss a smoke alarm going off.

The NIA website recommends seeing a health care provider if you experience the following symptoms:

  1. Having trouble hearing over the telephone
  2. Finding it hard to follow conversations when more than one person is talking
  3. Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  4. Turning up the TV volume so loud that others complain
  5. Having problems hearing because of background noise
  6. Thinking that others seem to mumble (uh-oh)
  7. Difficulty understanding voices in the higher register, such as women’s or children’s

NIA offers tips to help you compensate for hearing loss. While admitting it may be difficult, taking steps to help you hear is better than missing out. Let people know that you have trouble hearing and ask them to face you when speaking, to speak slowly and clearly, and please no shouting, as it doesn’t help. It does help for you to pay close attention, not just to the words being spoken, but to facial expressions and gestures.

For more information about hearing loss, log on to www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hearing-loss. Call your doctor for an evaluation if you’re having trouble hearing. Don’t suffer in silence.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.