Aging and Hearing Loss

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

You may find yourself turning up the volume on your favorite TV shows. Conversations in restaurants or other public places may become harder to understand—and you may find yourself wondering when these places got so loud. During a chat, you may ask a friend to repeat herself because you couldn’t hear words, or you may even find yourself “cupping” your ear in order to hear her better. If you, or someone you care for, has these experiences, they can be signs of possible hearing loss.

Older adults can experience hearing loss that ranges in severity from minor to major. It is the third most common chronic health condition affecting older adults—about 1 in every 3 people aged 65 or older has some degree of hearing loss. By the age of 85, as many as 70 to 90% of people will have some hearing loss. The condition tends to be more common in men than in women.

Hearing loss can lead to symptoms of depression and lead to feelings of isolation.What’s more, research suggests that older adults with hearing loss can also have cognitive problems. In fact, in one study of people aged 70 to 79, hearing loss was linked to faster cognitive decline and impairment, whether or not they were having other symptoms.

Finally, in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers found that when older people with hearing loss wear hearing aids, their mood and social interactions improve, which might slow cognitive decline. Continue reading

Aging and Vision Changes

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

In our previous blog post about eyesight, we discussed a number of vision problems that people may experience as they get older.  However, many people will experience age-related changes that are not eye diseases.  For example, you may begin to notice changes in your night vision—such as having trouble seeing stars on a clear night, or finding that it’s more difficult to navigate in a dark movie theater. Your eyes may also adjust more slowly to sudden changes in light. Glare and bright lights may trouble you, and that may make it harder to drive at night.

What’s more, working on the computer, reading printed material, or doing close-up projects like sewing, knitting, or woodworking may become more difficult as you age. Often, you can correct these problems easily by using brighter lighting or getting reading glasses.

Vision changes can lower your quality of life and increase your risk for having household accidents, or even car crashes. That’s why getting a yearly check-up with an eye specialist is important.  (See our previous blog post for a handy guide to eye specialists.)

Here are some tips on how to keep vision as sharp as possible for as long as possible:

  • Schedule yearly visits with an eye specialist.
  • Regularly check all medications for any side effects they may have on your vision. Common vision-related side effects include dry and irritated eyes. Antihistamines, allergy medications, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and some high blood pressure medications can cause dry eye.
  • Make sure that items on your floor (such as electrical cords, throw rugs, and knick-knacks) are removed or rearranged so that they are out of the way and you don’t trip over them. Also watch out for pets who can have a way of getting under your feet!
  • Brighten your home and make objects more visible. Here’s how:
    • Use adjustable desk, floor or table lamps close to your working area to shed more light when you’re reading or doing close work.
    • Avoid clear glass light fixtures to reduce glare.
    • Minimize window glare with opaque blinds, curtains or shades.
    • High-quality fluorescent light bulbs make it easier to see colors than conventional incandescent bulbs. What’s more, fluorescent bulbs spread light over large areas without glare, use less energy, and last 10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Just a few steps can make a big difference.  Check out our online resource on vision problems for even more suggestions!

Drs. Pomidor and Palmer are the Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the American Geriatrics Society’s Public Education Committee.

Aging and Vision Problems

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

Your eyes are your windows on the world, so it’s wise to protect your vision, especially as you age. Although not all older adults will experience vision problems, many people will experience age-related changes. While many vision problems are easy to correct with prescription lenses or brighter lighting, other problems require medical treatment. These include:

Cataracts. This age-related vision problem occurs when the lens in one or both of your eyes becomes cloudy. By age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or will have had surgery to correct a cataract. Symptoms include dullness, blurriness, or a brownish tint to your vision. As cataracts gradually get worse, vision problems become more noticeable. Although complete healing takes about a month, cataract surgery can immediately and dramatically improve your vision. During the procedure, the surgeon will implant a clear, plastic lens—like a permanent contact lens. Cataract surgery is safe and effective for most people, no matter what their age, health, or mental status. Medicare and most insurance plans cover the costs of the procedure.

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). The macula is a very small structure within the eye that helps you see fine details. When it begins to degenerate (fail), your central (straight ahead) vision can become distorted. People with ARMD will keep their peripheral (side) vision, and training can help them make the most of their lowered ability to see. There are a number of aids that can help people with ARMD, including magnifying lenses, large print items, speech software for computers, and computer and video enlargement systems. Continue reading

Updated Tip Sheets on HealthinAging.org

footerLogo_w_taglineWe are pleased to announce that thanks to the work of AGS’s Public Education Committee, 24 of our tip sheets have been updated on www.HealthinAging.org.  Covering topics such as winter safety, improving your memory, and geriatric syndromes, the HIA tip sheets provide easy-to-understand guidance for older adults and their caregivers on topics relevant to older adult health and well-being.

The Cost of Aging

[This is a guest post from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.]

People are now living longer than ever before. This trend is most likely a result of health advancements throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The treatment of heart disease and infectious diseases as well as immunizations have contributed to longer lives. By 2050, people ages 65 and older will make up more than 20 percent of the U.S population. Also by 2050, all living baby boomers will be over 85 years old. However, a growth in the aging population does not necessarily mean an increase in healthy aging. Aging comes with a need for long-term care, help with daily activities, and financial assistance. These needs increase for people older than 85. The growing aging population presents a new set of challenges for health care professionals and policymakers. But primarily, it will be seniors and their caregivers who must cope with the physical, emotional, and financial ramifications of aging.

Most people want to remain in their homes as they age. As a result, the demand for caregivers is expected to grow in the coming years. Currently, there are not enough caregivers to meet this demand. Many professional caregivers are underpaid and undertrained. Family members often have no training at all. As the percentage of seniors living in skilled-nursing facilities decreases, the role of caregivers will become even more important to the overall health of the aging population.

MPH@GW, the online Master of Public Health offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, created the following infographic to help explain the economic implications of a growing aging population  in the U.S. for older Americans, their families, and professional caregivers.

Continue reading