What Causes Hearing Loss in the Elderly?
This article was updated on: 09/15/2018
Hearing loss becomes more common as people age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about one in three individuals ages 65 to 74 have some degree of hearing loss, a figure that jumps to nearly half for individuals age 75 and older. Hearing loss can significantly affect the aging person’s quality of life, interfering with his ability to communicate with and understand health-care providers, hear and respond to signals such as doorbells and smoke alarms, and even enjoy conversations with family and friends.
What are the different types of hearing loss?
According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), there are three different types of hearing loss, which are categorized by the affected part of the auditory, or hearing, system:
- Conductive hearing loss, when sound isn’t conducted effectively from the outer ear to the eardrum and middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can usually be treated medically or surgically.
- Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear, such as from exposure to loud noises, or to the nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain. This is the type most often associated with age-related hearing loss and it cannot usually be treated medically or surgically. Sensorineural hearing loss is generally considered permanent.
- Mixed hearing loss refers to some combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
What are the most common hearing loss causes?
Although the different types of hearing loss have different causes, age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is generally caused by one or more of the following conditions according to the NIDCD:
- Exposure, over time, to noises that are either too loud or last too long. Damaging sounds could include firecrackers, firearms, sirens, and even motorcycles.
- Health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure that tend to be common in older adults.
- Using prescription medications that can damage the ear, known as ototoxic medications. According to ASHA, antibiotics such as gentamicin, certain chemotherapy drugs including carboplatin and cisplatin, some antimalarial drugs, diuretics, and even aspirin are known to be ototoxic.
- Abnormalities of the outer and middle ear, although this is one of the rarer causes of hearing loss.
Other causes of hearing loss in the elderly according to the Cleveland Clinic include viruses or bacteria, head injury, certain tumors, stroke, and certain heart conditions.
Generally, older people who are hard of hearing have a combination of age-related hearing loss and hearing loss caused by noise exposure.
What are the signs of hearing loss?
Because age-related hearing loss usually affects both ears equally and is often gradual, the affected person may not even be aware he or she is losing some of the ability to hear clearly.
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) suggests you see a doctor for a hearing test if you answer “yes” to three or more of the following questions:
- Are you embarrassed to meet new people because of your hearing?
- Are you frustrated when talking to family members because you have trouble hearing them?
- Do you have a hard time hearing or understanding your coworkers or customers?
- Do you feel that your hearing limits or restricts your activities?
- Do you have a hard time visiting friends or neighbors because of your hearing?
- Is it hard for you to hear movies in the theater?
- Have you argued with family members because of your hearing?
- Do you need to turn up the volume on the TV or radio above levels others can hear comfortably?
- Is your hearing interfering with your personal or social life?
- Do you struggle to hear conversation at the table in a restaurant?
How are the different types of hearing loss treated?
If you have conductive hearing loss, which is typically caused by a medical condition such as infection, allergies, or benign tumor, your doctor may recommend treatment with medication and/or surgery.
For age-related sensorineural hearing loss, your doctor may recommend an external hearing aid or implanted device. Some people respond well to hearing aids such as behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, or in-the-canal models that amplify sound. Others with more profound hearing loss may benefit from a cochlear implant in one or both ears.
It’s also a good idea to learn how to prevent hearing loss by avoiding extremely loud noises or loud sounds that last for an extended period of time. Use earplugs or earmuffs when you are using loud equipment such as lawnmowers or leaf-blowers. Limit the amount of time you’re exposed to loud music, snowmobiles, and other loud noises. With these simple precautions, you may be able to reduce the amount of hearing loss you experience as you age.
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This article provides general information, and is not a substitute for medical advice. Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose and treat medical conditions such as hearing loss.