Written by: Jami Tanihana, MA, CCC-A
Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions in adults over 50 years old. About one-third of people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 75 have some degree of hearing loss. For those older than 75, that number is approximately half.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to many adverse consequences, such as communication difficulties, confusion, social isolation, depression, embarrassment, dementia, and diminished quality of life. Sometimes older adults are not aware of their hearing loss and might blame others for mumbling or talking too softly. In other cases, they may simply withdraw from social situations because it’s easier than trying to hear what is beings said. Some people may try to accommodate the needs of people with hearing loss by talking louder, increasing the television volume, or answering for them during a conversation. In fact, older adults wait an average of five to seven years before seeking professional help. One reason for this long delay relates to the social stigma of not wanting to be perceived as “old.” However, we can provide loved ones with the emotional support to take the first step toward having better hearing.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:
- Difficulty understanding words, especially with background noise
- Hearing someone speaking but not understanding all the words that are being said
- Frequently asking others to repeat their words or to speak more clearly
- Accusing people of talking too softly or mumbling
- Needing to turn the TV volume louder
- Avoiding certain social situations
The first step is to tell hearing professional or doctor about your hearing difficulties. It is important to share information about your day-to-day life, situations in which it is difficult to communicate, and your medical history. You may then receive a hearing test. If a hearing loss is found, the hearing professional will develop a hearing rehabilitation plan. This can include hearing aids and hearing assistive technology.
My loved ones have also experienced hearing loss. My grandfather had normal hearing when he was 82 years old. However the following year, I noticed he would say “nani?” (what) more often, and would sometimes give inappropriate responses to questions. We would laugh and have fun with the situation, but I knew he needed to have another hearing test. Just one year later, I found his hearing had decreased to a level where he would benefit from wearing hearing aids. At first, he told me he didn’t need them and he was fine. My grandma and mom had to help me convince him to at least try them to see if they would be helpful. He finally agreed and was able to hear the TV and his family better without having to struggle.
In my experience working with the hearing impaired in our community, many older Japanese American males are reluctant to seek help because of personal pride. Admitting they have hearing loss is often seen as a sign of aging or weakness, even though they readily accept wearing glasses if they have a visual impairment. Once they are able to accept the fact that their loved ones will support them unconditionally through the process of rehabilitation, these men are more likely seek the help they need and successfully wear hearing aids.
Hearing aids vary in brand, size, style, technology, and price. The hearing industry is constantly working to improve hearing aids by making them smaller, more powerful, and better able to provide more natural sound especially in a noisy environment. In California, there is a law that allows people to try hearing aids for 45 days – if they decide not to keep them, for any reason, they are guaranteed a 100% refund. But it’s not easy to get people to use hearing aids right away, so here are some simple tips you can keep in mind when engaging with someone who has hearing loss:
- Speak clearly and slowly— but don’t shout
- Try to stay within three to five feet of the person you’re speaking with
- Get your loved one’s attention before beginning a conversation – a tap on the shoulder helps
- Tell your loved one the subject you’re going to talk about – for example, “let’s talk about the baseball game”
- Face your loved one so they see your facial cues – keep your hands away from your mouth
- If your loved one cannot understand a word, use a different word or spell it— just saying it louder usually doesn’t help
- Move away from noise and choose a quiet place for conversations
- Pick quiet restaurants or off times to dine out
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Associate Audiology Information Series
- Symptoms and Causes of Hearing Loss from Mayo Clinic.org
- The Facts of Hearing Loss – Pacific Northwest Audiology
- Statistics and Facts about Hearing Loss – Center for Hearing and Communication
About the Author: Jami Tanihana, MA, CCC-A
Jami Tanihana, MA, CCC-A, has been a licensed audiologist for over 25 years. She has owned her own private practice, held various management positions in different corporations, and is currently district manager for Hearing Lab Technology.