It may be funny when cell phone commercials use the popular tag line of “can you hear me now,” but for millions of older Americans hearing, loss is no laughing matter. The numbers are eye opening. According to Dr. Michael Whitaker, an audiologist at Fletcher Allen, 30-35 percent of all seniors between the ages of 65-75 experience some hearing loss, while 40-50 percent of those over the age of 70 experience some loss. “For every year that passes, there is a certain expectation for hearing loss,” he said.
The causes of hearing loss are many. For some, it runs in their families, others may have been exposed to loud noises and for still others, pre-existing medical conditions can be at play.
“Anything that affects blood supply to the ear can cause hearing loss,” said Dr.Whitaker. “Diabetics hear at a rate 10 years older than they are. Heart disease and people with high blood pressure are more prone to hearing loss.”
In fact, many medical conditions put seniors at a higher risk of hearing loss including poor circulation, use of certain medications, smoking, infections, heart conditions, strokes and tumors.
The inability to hear can have a profound impact on the quality of life. “Seniors with hearing loss have difficulty with conversation and can become isolated,” Whitaker said.
How to Know if You Have Hearing Loss
Do you have trouble talking on the phone, need to turn the TV volume up causing others to complain, ask people to repeat themselves or does it seem like people are mumbling? These are all signs of a potential hearing loss.
For some, a simple hearing aid and some amplification of their phone allow them to communicate better. However, Dr. Whitaker said many people are self-conscious about hearing aids, though asking someone to repeat themselves five times may draw more unwanted attention.
Avoid background noise — if you are in a restaurant, request not to be seated next to the kitchen or a speaker. Ask people to look at you when they talk — you will begin to be able to read lips or body language to help with communication cues. Sometimes just having someone rephrase what they said instead of repeating the same sentence is helpful.
In Vermont, if you purchase a hearing aid, you have 45 days to return it if it does not work for you. Whitaker’s advice: “Try it and see if it works for you. Some people brag they hear better than their spouse,” once a hearing aid is used.
For Dr. Whitaker, there is no better joy than restoring someone’s hearing. “I do get to restore a sense. People are very happy and able to communicate. Ears make us social.”
So if your spouse or your kids are complaining about having to repeat themselves, or you find yourself missing important conversations or not hearing warning sirens, get your hearing checked. Hearing loss can have a significant impact on the quality of your life.
Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA.