Hearing loss is something that many people never think about it or something we categorize as only being applicable to the older population. Nearly half of Americans over age 75 have hearing loss; for many the hearing loss is a natural part of aging due to deterioration of the auditory nerves. The science of hearing is a complex process, and if affect more than just our ability to hear noises and for our brains translate those sounds into things we understand. Damage to the delicate anatomy of the human ear can cause more than hearing loss, including dizziness and balance problems which can be particularly troublesome for seniors who may already be at risk for falls. Knowing how to protect your hearing and how to deal with the loss of it are both important topics for persons of all ages.

Age-related hearing loss is known as Sensorineural Hearing Loss and the category of hearing loss most closely related to the aging process. Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) is caused when the delicate hair cells in the inner ear deteriorate or become irreparably damaged. These hair cells are vital to the process of hearing sounds and transferring that information to the brain for translation. As we age, the structure of the inner ear can change which can also be a cause for this age-related hearing loss. This loss of hearing is the most closely tied to permanent hearing loss and can also be caused by illness, head trauma or exposure to very loud noises.

The other large category of hearing loss is known as Conductive Hearing Loss and is usually caused by a reduction in sound level impacting the ability to hear faint sounds. Conductive hearing loss can usually be easily treated medically or surgically and is caused by fluid in the inner ear (due to a cold), allergies or an ear infection. We have all experienced the feeling of having a nasty cold or bout of allergies that made our heads feel full and sounds muted and indecipherable.

For a person who is experiencing age-related hearing loss, there is not much that can be done to reverse the process. However, treatments and ways to deal with the social effects of the hearing loss are available, the most common being a hearing aid. Only one in four persons with hearing loss seek out the treatment of a hearing aid. Tests and evaluations by a trained audiologist will determine the level of hearing loss and which style of hearing aid can be most beneficial for that person.

Some research suggests a link between hearing loss and dementia, which is why an evaluation is an important task. Depending on the reason for the hearing loss, left untreated the problem can potentially worsen. Besides any medically needed reasons for treatment, the inability to hear the world around us can cause seniors to experience depression, social anxiety and frustration.

Other ways to deal with hearing loss involve the realm of visual cues. Our vision is another of our five senses that work together with our ability to hear. With hearing loss, we rely even more on the visual cues (body language, facial expressions) to provide information on what cannot be heard. Learning how to pay attention to these visible signals can go a long way to helping a person with a hearing loss interpret what is being said.

A person who has trouble hearing may also speak very loudly, without realizing the volume of their voice is way above what is needed for others to hear them. A hearing aid can help with this since they enhance sounds and make it easier for a person to hear conversations and other noises. When we hear things at a more normal level, our ability to respond on that same noise level is more equal. As the ability to hear declines, a person's speech may also decline, causing them to mumble or not speak clearly. Sometimes this is an organic result of SNHL but can also be the outcome of a stroke or other illness where speech therapy may be in order.

Age-related hearing loss aside, there are ways to protect your hearing. First and foremost, avoid loud noises. The louder the noise and the longer you listen at a high volume increase the potential for hearing damage to occur. So many of us listen to music or audiobooks using headphones or earbuds.Keeping the volume at a reasonable level is important to ensuring damage from prolonged exposure to loud noises does not occur.

If you are in an area where loud noise is happening, use headphones or earplugs to help protect your ears from the noise. A large open area with loud sounds can be damaging (think of a construction site or concert amphitheater), but a small confined space like your car can also be a dangerous environment. Giving your ears a break from exposure to loud noises can help them recover.

Talk to the nursing care team at The Villas Senior Care Community if a loved one in our care may be exhibiting signs of hearing loss so the cause of the problem can be identified and treated in the best possible manner.