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 struggling to hear what is being said, “What’s that, sonny?” 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. 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, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear or from changes along the nerve pathways to the brain. Sometimes certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or medications may play a role in the changes. Currently, research scientists do not know how to prevent age-related hearing loss.

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. 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.

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