Hearing loss in seniors is directly linked to ageing and is called ‘Presbycusis’. It is a gradual hearing issue and may not be noticeable at first. It lowers the capacity of seniors to hear high-pitched noises such as a bell ringing or a microwave beeping. This is seen to occur in both ears and can eventually lead to a permanent condition.
What Causes Hearing Loss in seniors?
Although seniors have a problem hearing high-pitched noises, some can hear low-pitched sounds quite clearly. Changes in the ear that manifest as one grows old are one of the most common causes of hearing loss in seniors.
- Changes in the inner ear.
- Changes in the middle ear
- Changes in the nerve pathways that lead to the brain
The other reasons that cause hearing impairment in seniors are listed below
- Ageing (Presbycusis)
- Continuous exposure to extreme noise, whether at work or loud music.
- Decline and subsequent loss of the sensory receptors within the inner ear.
- Genetic predisposition like ‘otosclerosis’, where there is a growth of abnormality within the ear that does not allow the parts related to hearing to function properly.
- Punctured ear drum (Tympanic membrane perforation) due to pressure, inserting hazardous objects within, or infection due to unhygienic practices.
- Illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Bacterial infections like Otitis media, heart problems, virus infections, etc.
- Medication-related deafness from the use of Ototoxic drugs. Such types of drugs are used in the treatment of illnesses like cancer, infections, or heart ailments. Certain antibiotic drugs are also ototoxic.
- Brain tumours, strokes, or injury to the brain
- A build-up of earwax that can clog the ears
Types of hearing loss in the seniors
Age-related deafness is seen in the following types:
1. Sensorineural hearing loss
This hearing problem is related to damage to the hearing (auditory) nerve pathways. Permanent deafness can be caused when the hair cells inside the cochlea are damaged. This is the most common type of hearing loss in seniors. It may result from ageing leading to the wear and tear of the nerve cells that transmit sound signals into the brain. Also, loud noise, drugs, injuries, infections, etc. may cause this problem in seniors.
2. Conductive hearing loss
This hearing issue is related to problems within the middle or outer ear. The sound waves are not transmitted to the inner ear. Due to any foreign object blocking the transmission, earwax, infection, fluid build-up, or a bone abnormality, this problem may occur. Such types of deafness can be healed with medical aid.
3. Mixed hearing loss
Some seniors can have a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing issues. They may have a sensorineural condition that later leads to a conductive problem.
How can Hearing Loss be improved in seniors?
The following ways can help seniors to cope with this problem:
1. Hearing aids
There are helpful types of hearing aids and cochlear implants, such as in the ear, behind the ear, in the canal, completely in the canal, receiver in the ear, etc., that can improve the hearing capacity of seniors.
2. Speech-to-text devices
Modern devices that convert speech into text are available that can help people cope with deafness. Regardless of the degree of the impairment, having such a device can make life easier for seniors who have difficulty hearing.
3. Speech reading training
Seniors with difficulty hearing can be trained to understand speech using visual cues.
4. Preventing earwax build-up
Decreasing the build-up of earwax within the outer ear can immensely help people with deafness, especially seniors. Some techniques available can help remove and reduce the build-up of wax within the ear.
5. Visiting specialists
An audiologist is a healthcare specialist who can manage hearing problems by performing a hearing test and suggesting expert advice. An Otolaryngologist is a doctor who can treat medical conditions of the ear, throat, and nose. This doctor specializes in ear diseases and knows how to handle them.
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Suffering from age-related deafnessis not the end of the road for seniors, and practising coping mechanisms is what helps manage hearing loss in seniors. Irrespective of the degree of the impairment, modern devices like speech-to-text forms can help seniors get around quickly. Reading speech from visual cues is another coping approach to hearing challenges.
Severe deafness can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia due to cognitive decline.
The hearing issue is considerably improved with a hearing aid in the seniors. Not wearing one will cause them to be confused and socially inactive.
Deafness causes a person to become isolated and withdrawn. It may also cause depressive behaviour and social break-off.
Yes, hearing impairment can lead to brain fog, characterised by confusion and lowered mental energy.