Hearing and Independent Living

Hearing loss can be caused by many different factors, including aging. With an increasingly large elder population, it is important to find out how to handle changes in hearing.

Hearing and Independence “Baby boomers are getting older and this is a large cohort of Americans who will be and may be now facing hearing loss,” said Pam Mason, Director of Audiology Professional Practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

According to data provided by Ms. Mason, there are 36 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, including nearly half of all people in the United States over age 75. The contributing factors that can affect hearing include:

  • Genetics
  • Noise exposure
  • Chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease and CVD
  • Normal aging

“Hearing loss creeps up slowly and may feel as though others are mumbling,” said Ms. Mason. She points out that the first sign of many types of hearing loss is when someone has trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment, like a restaurant.

Hearing & Living Independently

“Independent living can be affected by hearing loss, and especially one’s quality of life,” said Ms. Mason.

When someone is experiencing a decrease in their hearing ability, challenges might be:

  • Communication demands---as individual continue to work into advancing age, the work setting may be one area where untreated hearing loss can negatively affect earning.
  • Hearing loss is linked to the feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration, social isolation and fatigue.
  • Hearing loss increases the cognitive load. Trying to hear can be fatiguing and requires more mental energy.
  • Safety: There is an increase in falls with untreated hearing loss.

The first step is to be correctly diagnosed with hearing loss as this can sometimes be mistaken for psychological problems or dementia, or even lead to dementia. Ms. Mason cites a 2011 study by Frank Lin, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, in which he found “a strong link between hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia.”

Ms. Mason said that people must be able to recognize and accept hearing loss in order to keep living well and independently. “People need to overcome any denial or negative stigma about hearing loss,” she said. “Fitting hearing aids is just one part of treatment.”

A larger treatment program includes the individual with hearing loss and their loved ones:

  • Education and support
  • Communication strategies
  • Auditory training and lip reading
  • Individual and group auditory rehabilitation programs—holistic treatments that take into consideration other age-related changes

“For family members, recognizing the signs of untreated hearing loss is important,” she said. “Then helping loved-ones to seek out appropriate hearing health care from a certified audiologist.”

Helping with Hearing Loss

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a wealth of resources for people and their families who are dealing with hearing loss.

“The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has been promoting and celebrating May as Better Hearing and Speech Month since 1927,” said Ms. Mason. “This is a public awareness campaign to use during the month to educate the public on hearing/balance and speech/language problems.”

One goal of this dedicated month is to increase the number of Americans over the age of 70 who use hearing aids and hearing assistive technology systems (HATS). Another goal of Better Hearing and Speech Month is to increase the number of Americans between the ages of 20 and 70 who get a hearing evaluation within five years.

To learn more about Better Hearing and Speech Month, go to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website at www.asha.org.

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