As we age, our hearing ability changes just like any other part of the body. Hearing loss is a common problem caused by aging, heredity, noise, and diseases. People who suffer from hearing loss face difficulties in communicating with people in society as well as in a professional environment. Treatment for hearing loss with old age depends on a lot of other criteria.
How do we hear?
The hearing takes place by a set of events to change sound waves in the air into electrical signals. The auditory nerve carries these signals to your brain through a complex process with various steps.
- Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal, a narrow passageway, leading to the eardrum.
- The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three small bones in your middle ear named malleus, incus, and stapes.
iii. These bones couple the sound vibrations to fluid vibrations in the cochlea of the inner ear which is a shape like a snail and filled with fluid. The cochlea is split into an upper and lower part by an elastic partition called the basilar membrane that runs from beginning to end of it. It works as the base on which the hearing structures sit.
- When the vibrations cause a ripple in the fluid inside the cochlea, a traveling wave is formed along the basilar membrane. Hair cells i.e. the sensory cells on top of the basilar membrane ride the wave.
- With the hair cells moving up and down, microscopic hair-like projections known as stereocilia perched on top of the hair cells bump against an overlying structure and bend. This causes pore-like channels at the tips of stereocilia to open up. With this, chemicals start to run into the cells creating an electrical signal.
vi. This electrical signal is carried to the brain through the auditory nerve which turns into a sound that we can recognize and understand to respond accordingly.
What is a Hearing loss in elderly people?
Most of the age-related hearing loss happens in both ears. Because the loss is gradual, you generally do not realize that you have lost your ability to hear to some extent.
Hearing loss in the elderly is caused commonly due to changes in the inner ear or middle ear as we age. In some cases, it is because of complex changes along the nerves from ear to brain. Some medical conditions and medication may also play a role in hearing loss.
What are the different types of hearing loss in adults?
In the case of hearing loss with old age people, loss of hearing can mainly be categorized into 2 types. i.e.
- Conductive Hearing Loss
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Conductive Hearing Loss is a result of outer or middle ear obstruction typically caused by fluid, earwax, tumours, or ear formation which averts sound from reaching to the inner ear. It is generally possible to treat conductive hearing loss with medicines and surgery.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss, on the other hand, occurs due to damage in inner ear nerves and hair cells. It affects the nerve pathways from your inner ear to your brain. Most of the time, sensorineural hearing loss is not possible to be corrected with medical supervision. It is treated or helped by using a hearing aid.
Do you know what is the most common type of hearing loss in elderly people?
Out of the two types, Sensorineural Hearing Loss is observed as the most common type of hearing loss in elderly people as the nerves in the inner ear become weak with age.
In this blog, we will be discussing Sensorineural Hearing Loss in elderly people, also known as Presbycusis, in detail.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss in elderly people?
The first thing you notice typically is struggling to hear high-pitched sounds. Some examples of the same are whispers, background sounds, the rustling of leaves, and women’s voices. Telling certain sounds apart is another symptom common in hearing loss problems. Sounds like ‘th’,’s’ and ‘f’ sounds are commonly confused to differentiate if the words are similar in sound.
Some common symptoms of hearing loss in the elderly can be as follows i.e.
Find it Difficult to hear in noisy situations
Words sound muffled or slurred
Men’s voices easier to hear than women’s
Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
Struggling to hear clearly on the telephone
Unable to listen at low volume on TVs and radios
Asking people to repeat themselves
Some sounds seem overly loud and annoying
You’re speaking too loudly as quoted by others
Have to concentrate so much on what is being said in group settings
Missing parts of speech
Irritation of being unable to hear
Unable to distinguish who is speaking in a group
Social withdrawing due to hearing difficulties
Having frustration and lower self-esteem due to issue in reciprocating.
What are the causes of hearing loss in elderly people?
- Structural Changes in your inner ear may cause your inability to hear with gradual loss of hearing. As we age, the inner ear structure changes and it may lead to hearing loss in most of the elderly people.
- Changes in Brain Hearing i.e. how the brain processes speech and sound may affect your hearing ability.
Elderly people, particularly above the age of 60 have slow processing of all the sensory activities including motor activity. Their reaction time is prolonged, this poses difficulty in processing someone speaking fast, difficulty in shifting focused from one speaker to others. Thus, the elderly have some difficulties coping with very rapidly changing conversations. The brain receives a signal which is difficult to interpret for processing. As a result, the brain has to make considerable effort to organize this signal meaningfully. In the presence of complex listening situations, this becomes even more difficult.
iii. Impairment of the auditory nerve may result in hearing loss.
In this case, the inner part of the ear which is an end-organ of hearing called cochlea that has tiny hair cells with nerve cells, does not send stimulus to the brain as it does not receive it from the neurons of cochlear hair cells. The inefficacy of these hair cells results in the inability of the ear to identify all signals it receives causing a reduction in the volume of the sound and also the quality of sound due to distortion caused by non-functional organs of hearing.
- Blood flow change to the ear due to other health-related conditions like certain medication, genetic factors, loud noise exposure, etc may also result in hearing loss or deafness.
How can you prevent Hearing Loss in elderly people?
Certain precautionary measures can decrease the severity and make it worse even if it can not prevent the hearing loss fully. Few good protection measures include:
Avoid repetitive loud noise exposure and noisy environments
Using ear protection in noisy circumstances
Eat healthily and exercise regularly to beat hypertension and diabetes that may cause hearing loss
Getting tested regularly for hearing ability
Consulting the audiologist immediately if any symptom occurs.
What are the options for the Treatment of Hearing Loss in elderly people?
Hearing loss has no cure as it is one of the things that cannot be fixed as our body ages. As discussed above, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be treated with medicines and surgery most of the time. However, there are a few options available to manage age-related hearing loss which will prevent further damage and let you lead an active life.
The type of measure suggested to you will depend on different factors i.e.
How old are you?
Do you have any medical history?
How is your general health?
The severity of hearing loss you have
The outlook of your hearing loss
Your ability to handle the procedure, therapy or medications
Your preference and comfort with the options
Your Budget for treatment for hearing loss
Depending on these, you will be suggested to use specific management of your hearing loss issue.
Do you know hearing aids can be customized for every person?
Hearing aids are the most common tool to manage hearing loss in elderly people as they are a great solution to simply amplify sounds and make them louder as a primary function.
It is not beneficial for everyone similarly. However, with regular check-ups and the help of your audiologist, you will be able to personalize and choose the hearing aid that suits your lifestyle needs.
Traditional hearing aids work well for simple sensorineural hearing loss. However, for effectiveness, you must discuss other options available with your audiologist to make it personalized.
Some additional options with a hearing aid are listed below. i.e.
Use of other assistive devices like telecoils or FM system with the hearing aid
Making people around you aware of your situation so that they can help you cope
Making a few lifestyle changes to avoid noisy or crowded situations
Asking people to face you and speak louder and clearly
Minimize background noises and wear hearing protection as needed
In case of extreme hearing loss, Aural Rehabilitation, and pieces of training in lip and speech-reading, sign language learning is also an option.
The cochlear implant is very rare in age-related hearing loss. However, it may depend on various factors to be suggested.
Did you know that treatment for hearing loss can get…
Delay in diagnosis and management decreases the chances of the desired outcome. Current medical research has also established a correlation of untreated hearing loss and dementia. A person with untreated hearing loss is twice more likely to suffer from dementia compared to a person with normal hearing.
An audiologist is a qualified person to diagnose your age-related hearing loss. They conduct a full hearing test battery to check all parts of your ear and recognize the root cause of your hearing problem. If it has been caused by gradual damage over time, they may diagnose you with age-related hearing loss, and treatment for hearing loss will be prescribed.
With the hearing loss in elderly people, other effects may follow. It is important to manage age-related hearing loss with old age. If it is left untreated or treated inefficiently, it may lead to sadness, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, paranoia, emotional disturbance, and insecurity. Hence Treatment for hearing loss must not be neglected.
If you have read this and are still not sure about hearing issues faced by yourself or someone you know, feel free to reach out to us for a FREE Online Consultation before visiting for a check-up. We’d love to hear from you. Take care.