About one-third of people aged between 65 and 74 and one-half of those aged 85 and older have hearing problems. They may mistake words in a conversation, miss musical notes at a concert or leave a ringing doorbell unanswered. Hearing problems can be small (missing certain sounds) or large (involving total deafness).
Some people may not admit they are having trouble hearing. But, if ignored or untreated, these problems can get worse. Older people who can't hear well may become depressed or withdraw from others to avoid the frustration or embarrassment of not understanding what is being said.
They may become suspicious of relatives or friends who they believe ‘mumble’ or ‘don't speak up’ on purpose. It's easy to mistakenly call older people confused, unresponsive or unco-operative just because they don't hear well.
Conductive hearing loss happens in some older people when the sounds that are carried from the ear drums to the inner ear are blocked. Ear wax, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth or a middle ear infection can cause this loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage to parts of the inner ear or auditory nerve. The degree of hearing loss can vary from person to person. Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by birth defects, head injury, tumours, illness, certain prescription drugs, poor blood circulation, high blood pressure or stroke.
If you have a hearing problem, you can get help. See your doctor. Special training, hearing aids, certain medicines and surgery are some of the choices that can help people with hearing problems.
If you are having trouble hearing, your doctor may suggest using a hearing aid. This is a small device that you put in your ear to make sounds louder. Before buying a hearing aid, you should have a medical evaluation of your hearing problem.
There are many kinds of hearing aid. The choice will depend on your hearing level, ability to understand speech, comfort in using the controls and concern for how it looks.
Be sure to buy a hearing aid that has only the features you need. The most costly product may not be the best model for you.
Last Reviewed: 19 July 2001