How hearing loss impacts you – and best ways to adjust
Most older adults suffer from hearing loss – and it can have negative social, physical and mental effects on you.
But it doesn’t have to. Many older adults with some hearing loss can adjust and overcome any setbacks it might cause.
Nearly 25% of people ages 65 to 74 have some hearing loss. Half of those who are 75 and older suffer from it, according to research compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
So if you’re aging in place, it’s likely you have or will experience some hearing loss. Or your spouse, family members or friends will – and it will affect you, too.
Why do we lose hearing
Adults can lose hearing for a variety of reasons, according to the National Institute on Health. It’s not just about “getting old!”
For some, hearing loss comes from exposure to noise – such as a career in a loud manufacturing facility. For others, hearing loss is health-related: Some conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can contribute. Even some medications – such as chemotherapy drugs – can affect hearing. But for most older adults, it’s a combination of aging and noise exposure, the NIH researchers said.
3 major impacts
Regardless of the reason, hearing loss will affect older adults’ lives in several ways. Here are the three biggest potential impacts:
- Mental health. When older adults struggle to hear, they often avoid conversations, nod in agreement or seem uncooperative to things they don’t even know are said. The lack of real interaction can lead to cognitive decline, some experts agree. What’s more, if older adults feel they’re being perceived as feeble or confused they can take on negative self perceptions – such as silly, stupid, awkward or embarrassed. That can lead to isolation, loneliness and possibly depression.
- Physical health. While hearing issues alone don’t normally affect other medical conditions, the lack of hearing can interfere with necessary healthcare and safety. With declining hearing, older adults might not hear – and heed – warnings of danger, such as smoke alarms, sirens, medical alerts or another person shouting a warning. They also might not hear – and heed – critical instructions from healthcare providers.
- Social health. As older adults lose hearing, they might find it difficult to understand what others say or feel they can’t carry on conversations properly. Those feelings can lead to withdrawal from activities they normally enjoy and interactions with family and friends.
6 ways to adapt, overcome
If you experience hearing issues, you can do some things to adapt and overcome negative effects. Some advice:
- Talk about it. Tell family and friends you struggle to hear sometimes. They need to know so they can better communicate with you.
- Clarify it. Ask others to speak clearly and with a louder voice. Then remind them they don’t need to talk extremely slow or shout. Sometimes, just changing their pitch will help.
- Face each other. Ask people to speak so you can see their faces. When you see facial and hand gestures, it’s easier to understand what’s said, felt and meant.
- Focus. Turn off distractions such as the television, radio and computer when you talk with others. The background noise will only interfere with the conversation and comprehension.
- Understand your surroundings. You can’t completely avoid areas with noisy backgrounds – such as restaurants, streets and parties. Just be aware that when you are in those types of settings, you’ll want to practice your best listening habits and possibly avoid important conversations.
- Stay ahead of it. Experts also suggest a few things to prevent minor hearing loss from becoming severe: Avoid constant loud noises. Wear ear plugs when you are exposed to continual loudness. Avoid using cotton swabs to remove ear wax. Choose a healthy diet. Exercise regularly. Keep tabs on your medical conditions.
Of course, if hearing loss does negatively affect your quality of life, you want to talk with a primary healthcare provider who might direct you to medical devices to help. And if you still wonder if you have hearing issues, you can do a self-assessment questionnaire here – and then contact your healthcare provider for more help.
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