Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
About one-third of Americans between age 65 and
74 and one-half of those age 85 and older have hearing problems. They may
mistake words in a conversation, miss musical notes at a concert, or leave a
ringing doorbell unanswered. Hearing problems can be small (missing certain
sounds) or large (involving total deafness).
Some people may not admit they are
having trouble hearing. But, if ignored or untreated, these problems can get
worse. Older people who can't hear well may become depressed or withdraw from
others to avoid the frustration or embarrassment of not understanding what is
being said. They may become suspicious of relatives or friends who they believe
"mumble" or "don't speak up" on purpose. It's easy to mistakenly call older
people confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they don't hear
If you have a hearing problem,
you can get help. See your doctor. Special training, hearing aids, certain
medicines, and surgery are some of the choices that could help people with
Common Signs of
See your doctor if:
•words are hard to understand,
•another person's speech sounds slurred or
mumbled, especially if it gets worse when there is background noise,
•certain sounds are overly annoying or
•a hissing or ringing in the background is
•TV shows, concerts, or parties are less
enjoyable because you can't hear much.
Diagnosis of Hearing Problems
Hearing loss can be caused by exposure
to very loud noises over a long period of time, viral or bacterial infections,
heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, certain medicines, heredity,
or changes in the ear that happen with aging.
If you have trouble with your hearing, see
your family doctor. In some cases, the diagnosis and treatment can take place in
his or her office. Or you may be referred to an otolaryngologist . This doctor
has special training in the ear, nose, and throat and other areas related to the
head and neck. He or she will take a medical history, ask if other family
members have hearing problems, do a thorough exam, and order any needed tests.
An audiologist is a health professional
who can identify and measure hearing loss. He or she may work with the
otolaryngologist. The audiologist will use a device called an audiometer to test
your ability to hear sounds at different pitches and loudness. The tests are
painless. Audiologists do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery.
Types of Hearing Loss
Presbycusis is the most common
hearing problem in older people. In fact, people over age 50 are likely to lose
some hearing each year. Presbycusis is an ongoing loss of hearing linked to
changes in the inner ear. People with this kind of hearing loss may have a hard
time hearing what others are saying or may be unable to stand loud sounds. The
decline is slow. Just as hair turns gray at different rates, presbycusis
develops at different rates.
Tinnitus is also common in
older people. Tinnitus is a symptom associated with a variety of hearing
diseases and disorders. People with tinnitus have a ringing, roaring, or hear
other sounds inside the ears. It may be caused by ear wax, an ear infection, the
use of too much aspirin or certain antibiotics, or a nerve disorder. Often, the
reason for the ringing cannot be found. Tinnitus can come and go; or it can stop
loss happens in some older people when the sounds that are carried from the
ear drums (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear are blocked. Ear wax in the ear
canal, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, or a middle ear infection
can cause this loss.
hearing loss happens when there is damage to parts of the inner ear or
auditory nerve. The degree of hearing loss can vary from person to person.
Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by birth defects, head injury, tumors,
illness, certain prescription drugs, poor blood circulation, high blood
pressure, or stroke.
If Someone You
Know Has a Hearing Problem
•Face the person and talk clearly.
•Stand where there is good lighting and
low background noise.
•Speak clearly and at a reasonable speed;
do not hide your mouth, eat, or chew gum.
•Use facial expressions or gestures to
give useful clues.
•Reword your statement if needed.
•Be patient, stay positive and relaxed.
•Ask how you may help the listener.
•Set up meetings so that all speakers can
be seen or can use a microphone.
•Include the hearing impaired person in
all discussions about him or her to prevent feelings of isolation.
Tips to Recognize Hearing Loss
See your doctor if you have:
•Difficulty hearing over the telephone;
•Trouble following a conversation when two
or more people are talking at the same time;
•Others complaining that you make the TV
•To strain to understand conversations;
•Problems hearing because of background
•The sense that others seem to mumble; or
•Difficulty understanding women and
If You Have
•Tell others that you have trouble
•Ask others to face you, speak more slowly
and clearly, and not to shout.
•Pay attention to what is being said and
to facial expressions or gestures.
•Let the person talking know if you do not
understand what is being said; ask for the statement to be repeated or reworded.
If you are having trouble hearing, the
doctor may suggest using a hearing aid. This is a small device that you put in
your ear to make sounds louder. Before buying a hearing aid, you must get a
written medical evaluation or sign a waiver saying that you do not want a
There are many
kinds of hearing aids. An audiologist will consider your hearing level, ability
to understand speech, comfort in using the controls, and concern for how it
looks. He or she will then suggest a specific design, model, and brand of
hearing aid that best suits your needs.
When you buy a hearing aid, remember
you are buying a product and a service. You will need fitting adjustments,
directions to use the aid, and repairs during the warranty period.
Be sure to buy a hearing aid that has
only the features you need. The most costly product may not be the best model
for you, while the one selling for less may be just right. Be aware that the
controls for many hearing aids are tiny and can be hard to adjust. This often
gets easier with practice. Find a hearing aid dealer (called a dispenser) who
has the patience and skill to help you during the month or so it takes to get
used to the new hearing aid.