Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. For older adults, it is one of the most common conditions with 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 65-74 experiencing hearing loss. That statistic jumps to nearly 1 in 2 for adults older than 75.

There are two main types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural.

Conductive means a type of hearing loss is caused by any condition or disease that impedes sound from traveling through the middle ear cavity to reach the inner ear.

Sensorineural means when the nerves of the inner ear are degraded, the sound is unable to be transmitted to the brain, resulting in the hearing loss.

These types of hearing loss can pose many difficulties for older adults. It can make it hard for them to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, or hear doorbells and alarms. It can also be hard to enjoy talking with friends and family because the senior may feel embarrassed or frustrated. This can lead to depression or social withdrawal.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

The type of hearing loss experienced determines what sorts of treatments are available. There are a variety of different symptoms that can arise with hearing loss, so it’s important to be aware of what to look out for. If your loved one shows any of these symptoms, make sure to consult a doctor.

  • Trouble understanding phone conversations
  • Trouble hearing above background noise
  • Trouble following a conversation when more than one person speaks at once
  • Perception that people are not speaking clearly or mumbling
  • Often misunderstanding what people say and responding inappropriately
  • Often having to ask people to repeat themselves
  • Frequent complaints by others that the TV is too loud
  • Ringing, roaring, or hissing sounds in the ears, known as tinnitus

What are the Causes of Hearing Loss?

There are many different reasons that adults will face hearing loss. While getting older, disease, and trauma are major causes, other reasons include:

  • Earwax buildup
  • Changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear or outer ear
  • Long-term loud noises
  • Heredity
  • Head injuries
  • Infections
  • Illness
  • Certain prescription drugs

Diagnoses of Hearing Loss

Your doctor will most likely conduct hearing tests to diagnose any hearing loss. These exams include wearing headphones and identifying different tones by raising the correct hand when the patient identifies the tone. A doctor may also use an otoscope to identify any blockage in the ear canal.

If your doctor is unable to find another cause for your symptoms, they may diagnose you with age-related hearing loss. They also may refer you to a hearing specialist called an audiologist. The audiologist can perform further hearing loss tests to help determine how much hearing loss has occurred.

Treatments of Hearing Loss

The most common and well-known treatment option for hearing loss is hearing aids. A hearing aid is a small device that is placed in an individual’s ear, which allows the sounds waves to move through a microphone mechanism before entering the ear, amplifying the sound waves. Hearing aids come in all shapes in sizes and are available in a wide range of prices. Typically, the individual using the hearing aid has the ability to control the volume of the device, turn it on and off, and more. While hearing aids are a primary option when it comes to hearing loss in older adults, it is difficult to fix the device if it is ever broken or stops working.

Another popular treatment option that often coincides with hearing aids is hearing loss counseling. Older individuals can choose to speak with a medical professional or another individual suffering from hearing loss to discuss the difficulties of being unable to hear properly. This counseling helps individuals continue to effectively communicate with people, despite their newly acquired disability. If a senior is considering this option, his or her physician will make helpful recommendations.

Hearing problems can be serious, and if left untreated, can get worse. If you think that you or your elder loved one may have a hearing problem, it is important to see your primary care physician, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a hearing test take?

It depends on the doctor, but routine hearing tests typically take about 20-30 minutes. This involves an interview, examination, which determines what type of hearing loss you or your loved one has, and recommendations for treatment options. Most times, the recommended treatment option is a hearing aid.

The New York Hearing Doctors is a great resource that outlines the whole hearing test process from start to finish. Not only will it hep you to prepare, but it will also provide you with a better understanding of the test so you will know what to expect.

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I'm interested in getting hearing aids, but I'm worried about the cost. Does Medicaid or Medicare cover the cost of hearing aids?

Generally speaking, no Medicare and Medicaid do not cover the cost of hearing aids, but each state is different. In some cases, Medicare Part or Medicaid may cover certain deductibles or co-payments associated with hearing diagnostic tests. However, we recommend contacting your state Medicare or Medicaid agency to see if they can provide discounts or information regarding hearing aids.

The Hearing Loss Association of America also has several resources for learning about how you can receive financial assistance when it comes to paying for your hearing health

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