Coping with Hearing Loss

Hearing problems

It is one of the stereotypical images of old age. A cartoon-like picture of an elderly man or woman with one hand behind an ear as he or she struggles to hear what is being said, “What’s that, sonny?” the caption might read. But if you or someone you love is experiencing age-related hearing loss, this image is no joke.

Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is a gradual loss of hearing that may occur as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults, second only to arthritis. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that about one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 75 have some degree of hearing loss. For people over the age of 75, that number is closer to 50 percent.

Age-related hearing loss most commonly results from changes that develop in the inner ear as we grow older, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear or from changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Sometimes certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or medications may play a role in the changes. At this time, research scientists do not know how to prevent age-related hearing loss.

Hearing loss usually occurs in both ears and affects them equally. Because the loss is so gradual, it is often unnoticeable at first. The problem is frequently more apparent to others. It can affect the ability to conduct normal conversations, to hear phone, doorbells, warning signals or alarms, and even to understand a doctor’s instructions.

Hearing loss can cause some people to withdraw from their normal activities, as they get increasingly frustrated and even embarrassed at their inability to hear conversations, concerts, lectures, movies or other events they normally enjoy.  A common reaction in people with age-related hearing loss is denial. Some blame others for not speaking clearly or blame background noise.  This denial, and the anger that sometimes comes with it, can harm relationships.

How can you cope with your own hearing loss or the hearing loss of a loved one? The first step is to get a comprehensive hearing evaluation. A proper diagnosis is the key to finding the best solution to the problem.

For many people, a hearing aid can make all the difference. However, estimates reveal that four out of five Americans with hearing loss do not have a hearing aid. Part of the problem is their cost, which can range from $500 to $6,000 depending on the technology, type and style of the aid. The cost is usually double, since most people need one for each ear.

Few private insurance companies cover the cost of hearing aids. Currently, Medicare does not cover hearing aids. Medicaid often does cover the cost of hearing aids and related service. If cost is a concern, take the time to research payment plans.

Another stumbling block is the misconception that hearing aids are big and bulky. Technology has provided tiny, lightweight behind-the-ear aids, bone-anchored hearing aids that are surgically implanted and even those that connect wirelessly to a mobile phone.

Another option to help cope with hearing loss is to use listening devices with or without a hearing aid. Many locations—including churches, theaters and museums—provide personal listening devices free of charge for patrons to use during lectures, conference and other events. Special amplifiers can be purchased for phones and for TVS.

Here are some tips for helping your loved one cope with hearing loss:

  • Communicate. Tell your loved one how much he or she means to you and how much the hearing loss is affecting you. Be direct, but use kindness and compassion in sharing your feelings.
  • Seek help. Schedule a hearing evaluation for both you and your loved one. If cost is a concern, research healthcare payment plans.
  • Share information. Show your loved one photos of the tiny state-of-the-art hearing aids to dispel any misconceptions.
  • Stop being an enabler. If you have “helped” by turning up the volume, repeating conversations or acting as if there is not a problem, stop performing those duties. It will help your loved one fully realize the extent of the problem.
  • Be patient but persistent. Hearing specialists report that family pressure is the number one reason their patients seek hearing aids. Provide practical information so that your loved one can make an informed decision.

For more information on age-related hearing loss, visit

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