The ability to hear is something many people take for granted, and as we age, this ability is often diminished. Over a third of adults over age 65 have some form of difficulty hearing. This number increases to 50% among adults older than 85 (Anon, 2016a), and is more common in older males than females (Anon, 2016b). It is important to know what steps we can take now to preserve our hearing so that we can continue to live independently.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss occurs gradually. However, there may be different signs of hearing loss you may experience with varying severity. Below are some common events that may point to hearing loss (Plotnick, 2018c):
- Difficulty hearing people
- Asking people to repeat themselves often
- Perceiving others as frequently mumbling
- Avoiding social situations
- Experiencing a ringing in the ears
Risk Factors of Hearing Loss
- Genetics: Hearing loss is more likely if one’s parents also had hearing loss (Clason 2019).
- Medications: Some medications, prescribed and over-the-counter, may be harmful to your hearing (Anon, 2016b).
- Some of these medications include, but are not limited to, antibiotics, chemotherapy medicine, loop diuretics, high doses of aspirin, acetaminophen, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Ask your physician if you are taking any medications that may affect your hearing. Ask your physician if they can prescribe you an alternative medication if it is affecting your hearing (Clason 2019).
- Occupations: There are certain professions which may put individuals at a higher risk for hearing loss due to their work environment.
- Examples of occupations which can expose employees to hearing loss are construction workers, paramedics, firefighters, musicians, military personnel, and manufacturing and factory workers.
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders: TMJ disorders are conditions that affect the jaw and can cause headaches, earaches, and ringing in the ears (Cleveland Clinic, 2021).
- TMJ may also cause aural fullness, or the feeling of stuffy ears that may affect hearing (Peng, Yongxin, 2017).
Potential Outcomes of Hearing Loss
- Decrease in Socialization – Sometimes our hearing loss may impact us in a way that we may avoid social situations.
- We may feel guilty or embarrassed having to constantly ask others to repeat themselves, or we may feel stressed when having to attend important events.
- This may lead to further social isolation, which can greatly impact our everyday activities—and in turn—our relationships with family and friends.
- Negative Emotional & Mental Health:
- Reinforce Aging Stereotypes
- These side effects can also contribute to some of the negative aging stereotypes. For example, hearing loss may lead others to assume that an older person is slow, unintelligent, or losing their faculties—which is usually not the case (Packer, 2017).
Actions You Can Take to Keep Your Hearing Healthy
To maintain our independence and age well with others, it is important to keep our hearing healthy so that we can continue to participate in activities.
Some types of hearing loss are preventable. Here are some precautions to take to preserve hearing:
- Avoid loud noises. A general safety tip is to avoid loud and booming sounds. Avoiding loud noises also includes your music—listening to loud music through earbuds or headphones can be one of the biggest dangers to your hearing. When listening to music, turn down the volume to keep sounds at a healthy level (generally this is no more than 60% of maximum volume). Furthermore, take a break from listening every hour for at least 5 minutes (Anon, 2018).
- Use hearing protection. If you expect to be in a situation where noise levels are going to be high, invest in some hearing protection. Earplugs are one type of accessible and affordable hearing protection. Use disposable foam earplugs or customized earplugs which are made uniquely for different ear shapes. You can also purchase noise-cancelling earplugs for better protection against higher noise levels (Plotnick, 2018a). If you dislike the feeling of wearing a plug inside your ear, you can also opt for earmuffs or over-the-head earphones which fit snuggly over your ears to block out sound.
- Exercise and stay healthy. Even for hearing, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is important. The cells in our ear depend on good blood flow in order to keep them in good condition and continue to send signals to our brain (Clason, 2019).
- Routine Checkup – Since hearing has been found to impact several domains of our lives—such as our mental and physical health—it is important to regularly visit the doctor to ensure our hearing is as healthy as can be.
While our sense of hearing may decline over time, there are precautions and protective measures we can take to preserve our hearing for as long as we can.
Anon. (2016a). Basic Facts About Hearing Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.healthinaging.org/a-z-topic/hearing-loss/basic-facts
Anon. (2016b). Caregiver Guide: Hearing Problems. Retrieved from: https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/caregiver-guide-hearing-problems
Anon. (2018). 5 Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthybody/top-10-tips-to-help-protect-your-hearing/
Clason, Debbie. (2019). Presbycusis: Understanding Age-Related Hearing Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52510-Presbycusis-understanding-age-related-hearing-loss
Packer, Lisa. (2017). How Hearing Loss Affects Seniors. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52508-How-hearing-loss-affects-seniors
Plotnick, Brande. (2018a). Learn How You Can Prevent Hearing Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyhearing.com/help/hearing-loss/prevention
Plotnick, Brande. (2018b). Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Retrieved from: https://www.healthyhearing.com/help/hearing-loss/noise-induced-hearing-loss
Plotnick, Brande. (2018c). What Are the Symptoms Of Hearing Loss? Find Out Here. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyhearing.com/help/hearing-loss/symptoms
Smith, Melinda, Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal. (2018). Sleep Tips For Older Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-to-sleep-well-as-you-age.htm/
Peng, Yongxin (2017). Temporomandibular Joint Disorders as a Cause of Aural Fullness. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545700/