Hearing is Connecting
Address hearing loss early, thoroughly to maintain overall health.
Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick
Hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions affecting seniors, and it has an impact on mental, social and physical well-being. Dr. David Kim, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network Ear Nose and Throat specialist, says early diagnosis and thorough management of hearing loss are important for ensuring good health.
1. How does hearing loss affect seniors?
Hearing loss can lead to many negative emotions including insecurity, frustration and anxiety. Many seniors feel ashamed of not being able to understand what others say and may avoid conversations or social gatherings as a coping mechanism. These feelings can lead to social withdrawal, loneliness and even depression.
Seniors with hearing loss may lose autonomy and self-esteem, reducing their overall quality of life. Hearing loss can place a strain on spousal and familial relationships due to an apparent “lack” of communication.
Hearing loss also has significant implications in physical health. Patients with hearing loss have decreased awareness of their surroundings and potential dangers, putting them at higher risk of falls and other accidents. For example, hearing-compromised individuals may not hear a smoke detector in a fire. These issues are further complicated by a high prevalence of balance issues in senior populations.
2. What are early signs of hearing loss?
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports one in three Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 has some degree of hearing loss. People with hearing loss will often ask others to repeat themselves in a conversation or turn up the television volume high. They have difficulty understanding conversations in public places with background noises. They raise their voices without realizing it. They may avoid group conversations, or simply nod and smile to avoid embarrassment. A person with hearing loss may be perceived as unresponsive or uncooperative by a family member or friend, and this can be mistaken for a cognitive decline.
3. What are different types of hearing loss?
Sensorineural hearing loss is due to a damage to the hearing pathway in the inner ear and brain. It can occur due to aging, chronic noise exposure, head trauma or infections. Aging-related hearing loss tends to affect both ears and reduces high-frequency hearing – creating difficulty understanding women’s and children’s voices, and certain consonants, such as f, h or s. Conductive hearing loss is the result of an impaired transmission of sounds from the outer ear to inner ear. Common causes include ear malformation, a foreign body in the ear canal (including earwax), fluid build-up and ear infection/scarring.
4. What’s the first step to take if you think you have experienced loss of hearing?
Consult an otolaryngologist for a comprehensive head and neck examination, and an audiologist for formal hearing evaluation, because there are many causes of hearing loss. For instance, I see a large number of senior patients with cerumen (earwax) impaction, and all it takes to restore their hearing is simple ear cleaning. At the other end of the spectrum, if you develop sudden-onset deafness or significant drop in hearing, seek medical attention immediately as it can be due to an inner ear infection/inflammation or a stroke. These conditions often have a small window of treatment, and permanent hearing loss can occur if not treated promptly.
5. What types of treatments and solutions are offered for hearing loss?
The mainstay treatment is hearing aids, and a wide range of designs and functionalities are available on the market. In addition, assistive listening devices with amplification capacity can be used on telephones, cell phones and television to augment hearing. Behavioral modifications including lip reading and planning social gatherings in relatively noise-free environments can improve speech comprehension. Also, tell your family members and friends about your hearing loss and ask them to speak clearly and slowly while facing you directly. It’s important to ask for accommodation – it is possible to maintain a good quality of life in spite of hearing loss.
David Kim, MD, is an ear, nose and throat specialist with Torrance Memorial Physician Network. He is located at 23550 Hawthorne Blvd., Ste. 125 in Torrance and can be reached at 310-891-6733.