Steps To Manage Hearing Loss
Of the various types of hearing loss, few affect the more venerable members of society as age related hearing loss does. It is widely reported (source: Action On Hearing Loss 2005 survey) that 1 in 9 UK residents display signs of hearing loss, the largest number of which are in the over 65s. Although impaired hearing may be naturally expected as the body matures it is unwise to leave the hearing loss unmanaged.
Living in a muted world can lead to significantly reduced quality of life, social isolation and can have an impact on the progression of dementia. The older population and those who care for the elderly should be aware of the signs of hearing loss and be encouraged to take action to mitigate any effects.
The extent of age-related hearing loss varies from person to person. One individual may have mild hearing loss, and adequately manage the effect by making minor changes, such as ensuring they always face people who are speaking and ask for repetition when needed. More commonly however, the extent of the hearing loss would be best managed by a healthcare provider and some form of additional amplification.
A crucial function of our hearing sense is performed by microscopic structures called hair cells. These delicate structures are found within the cochlea of the inner ear and are central to transmitting information contained within incoming sound. From the hair cells, information travels on via the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex within the brain for ‘translation’. When hair cells die or are damaged, the ability to capture and transmit sound information is impaired permanently, as these hair cells cannot regenerate. Damage to the hair cells can occur by other means, such as prolonged exposure to harmful noise levels (noise induced hearing loss), but age-related deterioration is most common.
Signs of Age Related Hearing Loss Include:
• Sounds and especially speed is muffled
• Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowded place
• Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
• Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio to a degree where others complain
• Withdrawal from conversations and avoidance of social settings
Individuals or caregivers should take action to manage hearing loss at the earliest opportunity. Many people wait for years before investigating their options. The first step is to undergo a hearing test. The actual test, which is often performed free of charge at a local hearing centre, takes a few minutes to complete. The degree of hearing loss, per ear, can be established and thereafter a number of solutions can be discussed.
Some people may be concerned that they will need to suddenly learn sign language in order to communicate, but that is far from what happens in practice to manage age-related hearing loss. There are plenty of technological aids that can be used in most daily stations to amplify external sound. Most versatile and popular are personal hearing aids that use digital processing power to help compensate for the impaired auditory system. Hearing aids are available from your local hearing centre, online and free from the NHS (limited model range and waiting list may apply in the case of the NHS). There are also other readily available solutions for the hard of hearing such as extra loud phones, extra loud and often flashing alarm clocks, specific products for amplifying the television and so on.
With such as wide range of amplified products available, there is no reason to have to simply accept hearing loss as something you are powerless to do anything about. Talk to your GP or visit a local hearing centre at your earliest opportunity.
Article written by Joan McKechnie BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan consults for Hearing Direct.