You Just Need to Stop Mumbling
Hearing Loss: What is the Big Problem?
Hearing loss is an inability to detect sound waves. Hearing loss can occur at any age from birth to old age. Often hearing loss in children attracts more attention than hearing loss in older adults.
There are a few different types of hearing loss common in adults:
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear, specifically the cochlea, or the auditory nerve to the brain. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent and progressive. Sensorineural hearing loss can be the result of illness, head trauma or loud noise exposure, genetic causes, or factors related to aging (when related to aging it is called presbycusis). This covers everything from mild tinnitus to severe hearing loss.
- Conductive hearing loss may or may not be permanent. Nonpermanent conductive hearing loss typically happens when fluid, earwax, or some other foreign body is lodged within the middle ear and blocking sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Permanent conductive hearing loss occurs when people have poor eustachian tube function, benign tumors that block the ear canal, or degeneration of the bones of the inner ear.
- A punctured eardrum or ear infection may also be the culprit. This type of hearing loss can often be repaired through surgery or some other medical treatment. Just make sure to go to your doctor so you can get treated.
- Mixed hearing loss is a form of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Caring for an older person
Many older persons do not see hearing loss as an issue or they do not notice they are losing their hearing. Often comments such as:
“I went to get my hearing checked because my wife keeps nagging at me. But I do not have a problem I just turn the television up. My wife, she has a problem with it.”
“It is not my problem, others just mumble.”
“I just do not go out anymore, so I do not need to hear.”
Do you know someone who has a hearing loss?
What Does the Research Say?
Medical researchers understand now that hearing loss is associated with a great number of other chronic conditions. It is not known whether hearing loss causes these conditions or not, however, those with a mild hearing loss are:
- 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia
- 3 times more likely to have a history of falling 
- more likely to experience a poor quality of life 
- at increased risk for loneliness and/or Isolation 
Older persons may not yet see the benefits of using amplification such as hearing aids, however, they have been shown to improve cognition, depression, and quality of life in veterans who wore them over a year’s time.  Hearing aids are costly and not covered by Medicaid. So pre-planning is important to keep in mind. In addition, hearing aids require time to adjust to as well as practice and/or therapy in order to understand speech well again. It is important to think of hearing aids as a tool to assist in understanding speech, but they do not “fix” the problem they just help a bit. By working at hearing and understanding speech, staying actively engaged in activities, and using your brain, you can help to delay some of the negative consequences associated with hearing loss. [6, 7]
It Could Be Worse
- Lin, F.R., et al., Hearing loss and incident dementia. Archives of Neurology, 2011. 68(2): p. 214-220.
- Lin, F.R. and L. Ferrucci, Research letters: hearing loss and falls among older adults in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012. 172(4): p. 369-.
- Li-Korotky, H.S., Age-related hearing loss: quality of care for quality of life. Gerontologist, 2012. 52(2): p. 265-71.
- Pronk, M., et al., Prospective effects of hearing status on loneliness and depression in older persons: identification of subgroups. International Journal of Audiology, 2011. 50: p. 887-896.
- Cruz-Oliver, D.M., Cognitive deficit reversal as shown by changes in the Veterans Affairs Saint Louis University Mental Status (SLUMS) examination scores 7.5 years later. Journal of American Medical Directors Association, 2014. 15(9): p. 687 e5-687 e10.
- Claire, L.S. and Y. He, How Do I Know if I Need a Hearing Aid? Further Support for the Self-Categorisation Approach to Symptom Perception. Applied Psychology, 2009. 58(1): p. 24-41.
- Kiebling, J. and S. Kreikemeier, User benefit of modern hearing aids. A comparative study. HNO, 2013. 61(8): p. 662-669.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Kari Lane