Caregiver Guide: Hearing Problems

Understanding the Problem

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 suffer from hearing loss, although it is more common in older men than in older women.

Problems can be small (missing certain sounds) or large (not hearing at all). Unfortunately, many older people with hearing problems do not visit a hearing specialist or wear a hearing aid. The result is that many older people cannot understand what others are saying.

Hearing loss occurs gradually. One of the first signs to watch for is that the older person turns up the volume on the television. In addition, they do not clearly understand what you have said or frequently request that you repeat yourself. However, when you do repeat yourself in a louder tone, the older person may ask you to stop shouting. This is because the problem is not that you are speaking too quietly but that the older person is having trouble hearing and understanding certain sounds. High-pitched tones may sound fuzzy and certain consonants such as “s,” “f,” and “t” are not clearly understood.

Infections, certain medicines, and exposure to very loud noises over a long time can lead to hearing loss. However, for the most part, hearing loss in older people is the result of age-related changes in the ear.
If the older person is asking “What?” frequently, or cupping their ear after everything you say, you should urge them to have their hearing checked by a healthcare provider. They may make a referral to an otologist or otolaryngologist (doctors who specialize in hearing disorders).
While hearing loss may be permanent, there is help available to help make up for the loss, such as devices to make the telephone and radio louder, hearing aids, and certain techniques like lip reading.
It is important to let the healthcare provider know about hearing problems so the older person can be helped.

Your goals are to:

  • Be aware of the symptoms of hearing loss
  • Make an appointment with a healthcare provider for an evaluation
  • Help to make the loss easier to deal with
  • Encourage using a hearing aid or other assistive device

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