AMARILLO Loss of hearing is a common complaint among older people.
“About 10 percent of Americans have hearing loss; about half of them are age 65 and older, making this one of the most common disabilities in older adults,” said Andrew B. Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension gerontology and health specialist in Amarillo.
But just because it’s a common complaint doesn’t mean it can’t be treated, he said. New technology may be able to help.
The two most common forms of hearing loss are:
- Sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by reduced sensitivity of the inner ear’s nerves and nerve fibers. Loud noises (including rock concerts, even those of more than 30 years ago), high fevers and certain medications are some of its causes.
- Conductive hearing loss is caused by some kind of obstruction in the outer or middle ear. A buildup of ear wax, ruptured eardrum, middle ear infection and certain medical conditions can contribute to this condition.
“Some persons who experience hearing loss may suffer from both types,” Crocker said.
Finding out the cause of the hearing loss is the first step in treating the condition, he said. That’s why medical screening is so important. But too many older people don’t seek the help they need.
“Often hearing loss is hidden or ignored because it is equated with old age or is an embarrassment to the older adult,” Crocker said.
And that’s too bad because many forms of hearing loss can be successfully treated, he said.
“Your health provider can evaluate for hearing loss, including determining which type you may have, what may be causing it and which type of therapy may be best for you,” he said. “Some remedies for hearing loss include surgery followed by assistive hearing devices and hearing therapy.”
But the most common therapy is hearing aids, he said, which are available in three types:
- Analog: The most common and least expensive, these hearing aids amplify sound without too much filtering of background noise.
- Digitally programmable: A combination of analog technology and digital control gives these units the ability to amplify sound and filter out some background noises.
- Digital: The most technologically advanced and expensive hearing aids, these units amplify sound, reduce background noise, have feedback control and maintain comfortable listening levels.
Like the people who wear them, hearing aids come in different styles too, Crocker said. Some are worn in the ear, some are worn deeper inside the ear canal, and some two-piece models are worn both inside and behind the ear.
Although the most common form of therapy for hearing loss, these products aren’t the only choice. “If you and your health provider determine that a hearing aid is not right for you, there are still options for hearing assistance,” Crocker said.
For example, those who have difficulty using the telephone could attach an inexpensive amplifier or adjust the volume on the receiver. An attachment that flashes lights inside the house can solve the problem of not hearing the doorbell.
“Consider what problems you are having with hearing and then talk to your health provider about possible solutions,” Crocker advised.
For more information on hearing loss, visit Web site of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/index.asp or contact an Extension agent.
For more information on this and other issues affecting older people, visit Extension’s Family and Consumer Science Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the link to Family Life.