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The below article is from the National Institute of Aging Archives

Hearing and Older People

About one-third of Americans between age 65 and 74 and one-half of those age 85 and older have hearing problems. They may mistake words in a conversation, miss musical notes at a concert, or leave a ringing door bell unanswered. Hearing problems can be small (missing certain sounds) or large (involving total deafness).

Some people may not admit they are having trouble hearing. But, if ignored or untreated, these problems can get worse. Older people who canít hear well may become depressed or withdraw from others to avoid the frustration or embarrassment of not understanding what is being said. They may become suspicious of relatives or friends who they believe "mumble" or "don't speak upĒ on purpose. Itís easy to mistakenly call older people confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they donít hear well.

If you have a hearing problem, you can get help. See your doctor. Special training, hearing aids, certain medicines, and surgery are some of the choices that could help people with hearing problems.


Common Signs of Hearing Problems
    See your doctor if:
    words are hard to understand,
    another personís speech sounds slurred or mumbled, especially if it gets worse when there is background noise,
    certain sounds are overly annoying or loud,
    a hissing or ringing in the background is heard,
    TV shows, concerts, or parties are less enjoyable because you canít hear much.

Diagnosis of Hearing Problems

Hearing loss can be caused by exposure to very loud noises over a long period of time, viral or bacterial infections, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, certain medicines, heredity, or changes in the ear that happen with aging.

If you have trouble with your hearing, see your family doctor. In some cases, the diagnosis and treatment can take place in his or her office. Or you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (oto-larin-GOL-o-jist). This doctor has special training in the ear, nose, and throat and other areas related to the head and neck. He or she will take a medical history, ask if other family members have hearing problems, do a thorough exam, and order any needed tests.

An audiologist (aw-dee-OL-o-jist) is a health professional who can identify and measure hearing loss. He or she may work with the otolaryngologist. The audiologist will use a device called an audiometer to test your ability to hear sounds at different pitches and loudness. The tests are painless. Audiologists do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery.


Types of Hearing Loss

Presbycusis (prez-bee-KU-sis) is the most common hearing problem in older people. In fact, people over age 50 are likely to lose some hearing each year. Presbycusis is an ongoing loss of hearing linked to changes in the inner ear. People with this kind of hearing loss may have a hard time hearing what others are saying or may be unable to stand loud sounds. The decline is slow. Just as hair turns gray at different rates, presbycusis develops at different rates.

Tinnitus (ti-NI-tus) is also common in older people. Tinnitus is a symptom associated with a variety of hearing diseases and disorders. People with tinnitus have a ringing, roaring, or hear other sounds inside the ears. It may be caused by ear wax, an ear infection, the use of too much aspirin or certain antibiotics, or a nerve disorder. Often, the reason for the ringing cannot be found. Tinnitus can come and go; or it can stop altogether.

Conductive hearing loss happens in some older people when the sounds that are carried from the ear drums (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear are blocked. Ear wax in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, or a middle ear infection can cause this loss. Sensorineural (sen-so-ree-NU-ral) hearing loss happens when there is damage to parts of the inner ear or auditory nerve. The degree of hearing loss can vary from person to person. Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by birth defects, head injury, tumors, illness, certain prescription drugs, poor blood circulation, high blood pressure, or stroke.


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