Managing hearing loss as we get older

Annoyance, inconvenience, or worse? Hearing loss happens so slowly and so subtly that we may think that all we need to do is adjust to it over the years. We’ll learn to live with it. So we’ll turn up the volume on the TV and radio. In conversations, we’ll be sure to focus so that we hear what people have to say. For others, we could be secretly relieved that we won’t get their every word.

All kidding aside, it no longer makes sense to learn to live with it. Hearing loss doesn’t slow down as we get older. For those of us who are 65 years old, a third have some hearing loss. By the time we’re 75, more than half of us will have difficulty hearing.

The everyday effects

Hearing loss that develops with age is called presbycusis (prez-buh-KYOO-sis). It’s when the piercing sounds of sirens, smoke alarms, and doorbells aren’t heard. It’s when we don’t catch the high-pitched voices of women and children. We also notice that sounds get distorted and messages get twisted. One might hear “Use the eggs in the bag” but what is said is “use the ice from the bag.”

Hearing loss that goes on for some time makes people depressed, anxious and paranoid. This can worsen to the point that there’s less getting together with family and friends, and less interest in social outings. And it can lead to other problems like dementia, falls, hospitalizations, accidents and deconditioning both mentally and physically.

How hearing loss happens

There are a few reasons why hearing loss develops. It tends to run in families without any specific explanation. It also can result from noisy environments, childhood infections, medications, heart disease or stroke. Injury to our hearing occurs mostly two ways: the first is when the auditory nerve is traumatized, which doesn’t allow electrical impulses to get to the brain.

The other way is structural damage to tiny hair cells, the ear canal, or the eardrum so that vibration of the sound waves can’t travel to the inner ear to transmit the signals to the brain.

How to manage it

Many public places such as museums, theaters and auditoriums have ear buds or ear phones available for patrons. At home, personal listening systems can be connected to the telephone, laptop computer, or television. These devices improve the clarity of sound and deliver the sound that you want to hear.

Talk to your physician about hearing specialists. They can test your hearing and suggest how to best manage the changes in hearing.

Hearing aids are now considered tiny microcomputers. This latest technology has several computer programs within the hearing aid that respond to and handle various sounds. They can be fine-tuned to give you the sounds that mostly closely fit what you are used to hearing. They also will improve the sounds that you want to hear as well as block background noise that you can happily go without.

More information on healthy hearing

• Age-Related Hearing Loss. American Academy of Audiology,

• Hearing Loss Association of America.

• “Hearing Loss: It’s a Family Affair,” National Council on Aging,

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