How Can Hearing Aids Help With Hearing Loss?
Disabling hearing loss is common among seniors, as nearly 25 percent of people over 65 suffer from it according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Hearing aids can help many of these seniors recover some of their hearing, making life more enjoyable once again.
That’s important for several reasons, as hearing loss can affect the way people communicate, work, enjoy the world around them and protect themselves from danger. A hearing aid can restore quality of life across several dimensions and safeguard your health.
What Are Some Signs of Hearing Loss?
In the inner ear, thousands of hair cells sit in a fluid-filled cavity called the cochlea. Each of these cells holds a tuft of hairs that move when vibrations are passed from the outer ear to the fluid in the cochlea. In short, they are responsible for picking up signals from the outside world so that they can be processed by the brain.
However, age, illness and injury all take their toll on these hair cells, which cannot be regenerated by the body. If enough hair cells are damaged or killed, it can adversely affect the ear’s ability to detect and interpret sounds.
Age, exposure to loud noises, illnesses like meningitis, some medications and inherited risk factors all contribute to your chance of hearing loss. Signs of hearing loss include:
- A muffled effect when hearing speech or other sounds.
- Avoiding conversation or social settings.
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves or speak slowly.
- Trouble discerning consonant sounds from each other.
- Extra difficulty picking out particular words when there is additional background noise.
In many cases, these signs will be obvious, but not always. Hearing loss can emerge gradually enough that those that suffer from it may not realize something is amiss.
Why Is It Important For Seniors to Consider Their Hearing?
For most people, their sense of hearing is only second to their vision and losing it can cause major issues during day-to-day life. For example, seniors who suffer from hearing loss may also experience the following:
Changes in vocabulary or voice
The brain relies on input from the ears to facilitate our ability to speak. Once that hearing becomes compromised, it’s common for seniors to avoid or stop using some of the sounds that they have trouble hearing. This can disrupt a senior’s ability to speak, which can be embarrassing and frustrating. Further, people tune the volume of their voice as they hear it, so seniors suffering from hearing loss often speak louder than they need to, without realizing it.
Changes in cognition
According to a 2013 study published by Johns Hopkins University, seniors with hearing loss experience cognitive decline about three years earlier, on average, than seniors who retain their hearing. Untreated hearing loss is also a major risk factor for dementia, as a 2011 study found that it increased the chances of developing dementia up to five times the normal baseline.
Changes in work performance
More seniors are choosing to work past retirement age, which means there are many people who are juggling important work tasks while dealing with hearing loss. That’s a major issue for these seniors, as hearing loss can affect performance on calls and during meetings, and can also result in additional listening fatigue, which affects focus and stress levels.
Changes in relationships
Relationships rely on clear communication, and hearing loss gets in the way of that. As hearing loss worsens, it can cause people to isolate themselves from others, either because they can’t maintain a conversation or because they are embarrassed by their condition. In both cases, this can result in ongoing emotional stress.
Changes in awareness
Without your hearing, it’s much more difficult to pick up on potential dangers in the environment, or even at home. For example, seniors that have hearing loss may not hear a fire alarm that’s going off outside, which is clearly a problem. Some studies have also determined that hearing loss can adversely affect reaction time and attention, which are potential liabilities in a dangerous situation.
What Hearing Aid Options Are Available To Seniors?
There are a few types of hearing aids and they differ in how they attach to the ear and how much hearing loss they can mitigate. The most common designs include:
Behind The Ear (BTE)
BTE hearing aids consist of a plastic shell behind the ear and a molded piece of plastic that fits inside the outer ear. The plastic shell contains the hearing aid’s electronics and detects auditory signals. These signals are directed to the earpiece for delivery to the inner ear. BTE hearing aids can help with mild to severe hearing loss, and newer models can fit in the ear without plugging it up, which is ideal for seniors who also deal with large amounts of earwax. Some BTE hearing aids are also designed with a discreet appearance, so they aren’t as easily noticed.
In The Ear (ITE)
ITE hearing aids are placed inside the outer ear and can also provide help with mild to severe hearing loss. ITE hearing aids are custom-made for patients to provide a comfortable fit, and some are also built with a telecoil. Telecoils allow seniors to pick up sound through the hearing aid’s circuitry, not the microphone, which is especially helpful when using the phone. Some buildings, like government offices and courts, have induction loop sound systems that allow people with these hearing aids to pick up sound better.
Some hearing aids are designed to be placed inside the ear canal, and these can be completely hidden in some cases. Canal hearing aids are the most discreet models available because they are placed inside the ear, they are more difficult to adjust and aren’t appropriate for several instances of hearing loss.
Before choosing one of the above hearing aid models, it’s recommended that seniors consult with a hearing specialist. Hearing specialists can examine seniors for hearing loss, determine its severity, help seniors choose a hearing aid, and customize the aid for optimal fit. This ensures a hearing aid that is comfortable and effective.