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Caregiver Training Blog

Hearing Loss, Isolation, and Beyond: What Caregivers Need to Know

Nearly half of adults aged 75 and older have a hearing impairment, according to the NIH. Unfortunately, when symptoms are ignored or left untreated, they can get worse. Not only that but adult hearing loss can also lead to other complications, including feelings of frustration, withdrawal from social activities, and even depression. Let's take a closer look at the issue of hearing loss, along with what caregivers can do to help their aging loved ones manage hearing loss.

About Hearing Loss and Seniors

More than 37 million American adults -- 15 percent -- report having at least some trouble with hearing, and the condition becomes even more common with age.

There are many different forms of hearing loss, ranging from the inability to hear certain sounds to complete loss of hearing. Its causes are many, and can include everything from heredity to long-term exposure to loud sounds.

Generally, hearing loss can be divided into two groups: sensorineural hearing loss, in which the inner ear or auditory nerve incurs permanent damage; and the largely treatable conductive hearing loss, in which sound waves can no longer access the inner ear.
Because hearing loss can occur gradually, many people miss the initial symptoms, which according to the Mayo Clinic may include the following:
  • muffled sounds, including speech
  • trouble identifying words, particularly with background noise
  • difficulty hearing consonants
  • repeatedly asking others to speak more loudly, slowly or clearly
  • raising the volume on the radio or television
  • social withdrawal from both conversations and settings

According to Harvard, most doctors don't routinely check for hearing loss, so request a formal hearing test if you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your aging loved one.


Hearing Loss and Isolation

There are many unexpected health risks associated with hearing loss, according to Johns Hopkins. Isolation is at the top of the list. People who suffer from hearing loss may become frustrated, embarrassed or even angry during social situations, leading to withdrawal. These feelings were stronger for seniors with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids, according to a study by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA).

Perhaps even more troubling? Recent research published in JAMA connects hearing loss with accelerated cognitive decline in seniors. Scientists suggest that the loss of socialization related to hearing loss may lead to a decrease in brain stimulation triggering a corresponding decline in thinking skills. They also suggest that the brains of hearing impaired people may be forced to work harder on processing auditory signals, causing atrophy of the brain's other "thinking parts."

Treatments for Hearing Loss

While hearing loss is among the most common health conditions affecting today's seniors, it is also largely treatable. Hearing aids are a useful way to treat hearing loss, although more than two-thirds of seniors report not using them for a variety of reasons, including denial and vanity. Elder caregivers can play a critical role in urging their aging loved ones to seek appropriate treatment.

A number of other assistive devices exist to help seniors suffering from hearing loss, including telephone amplifying devices, television and radio listening systems, assistive listening devices in public places, and alerts.

Cochlear implants are also effective in treating some cases of severe deafness, although they are not useful for all types of hearing loss

While hearing loss is a fact of life for many seniors, hearing impairment does not have to negatively impact quality of life. Prompt diagnosis, treatment and other adaptive measures can help seniors not only hear better, but also can continue their hobbies and remain engaged within their communities. For more information on hearing loss, hearing aids, the physiology of aging, and many other useful topics visit mmLearn.org, a free resource for caregivers of older adults.

mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. 

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