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MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Common signs of hearing loss in elderly people

We look at some of the common causes of hearing loss in the elderly to help you spot it early.

January 26, 2023

Old man with hearing problems

Some level of hearing loss is very common as we age, with 71% of people aged 70 years and older experiencing hearing loss in the UK. Being unable to hear can be a real challenge for many older people and their loved ones, with lots of different areas of life being affected.

Loss of hearing can also have an effect on someone’s balance, which can have serious consequences if it increases their risk of a fall. However, with the right help and support, the negative impact of hearing loss on an elderly person can often be reduced, helping them to maintain their quality of life and independence for longer.

In this article, we look at some common signs of hearing loss in the elderly for loved ones to watch out for, and some of the ways in which they can support an older relative, friend or neighbour with hearing loss.

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Age is the most common cause of hearing loss

Hearing loss in elderly people is very common and is often caused by the small hair cells in the inner ear being damaged naturally over time. There are other potential causes too, which include repeated exposure to loud noise levels, having a history of middle ear disease (middle ear infections) and genetics i.e. having a history in the family of hearing loss.

Worldwide, it’s estimated that around a third of the population of over 65s have a level of hearing loss that has a significant impact on daily life.

Tinnitus is a condition that causes a persistent ringing, whistling, buzzing, humming or hissing sound to be heard when there isn’t an outside source for the sound. Sometimes the sound is constant and sometimes it comes and goes. Tinnitus can also be linked to hearing loss in some people.

Sometimes hearing loss can be caused by things such as a build up of ear wax, an ear infection or a medical condition such as Labyrinthitis, which can happen at any age.

 

The link between hearing loss and balance in the elderly

Problems with the ears and issues with balance are closely linked, which can mean that older people experiencing hearing loss, especially if untreated, can sometimes be at higher risk of a fall. This can be very worrying for the person experiencing the hearing loss, as well as a real concern for their family and friends.

 

Other potential consequences of hearing loss in elderly people

As well as the hearing loss itself and the challenges that this can bring to daily life and activities, there are other potential issues that can result from someone experiencing hearing loss in their older years, especially without the right treatment, help and support. They may include:

  • Difficulties with communication
  • Social isolation
  • Depression and low mood
  • Reduced mobility
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Reduced ability to live independently
  • A link between untreated hearing loss and the development of dementia

The good news is that, with the right assistance, advice and support, many older people with hearing loss need not experience these consequences, and can go on to live an active, full and independent life for many years to come.

 

Man having difficulty hearing conversation

Signs of age-related hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss tends to happen slowly, over a long period of time, so it can be hard sometimes to pick up the signs, both for the individual themselves and the people around them, because they get used to reduced levels of hearing. The most common signs of mild to moderate hearing loss are:

  • Finding it more difficult to follow conversations, especially if in a location with lots of background noise, such as a coffee shop or restaurant, or in a crowd of people
  • Missing words or mistaking words that someone else has said in normal conversation
  • Having to ask people to repeat what they have said regularly
  • Finding that the television or radio volume is set louder than it used to be
  • Finding phone conversations more difficult because of problems hearing the other person
  • Not hearing the doorbell ring, when that hasn’t been an issue in the past

 

What can be done to help with hearing loss in the elderly?

With gradual hearing loss that is likely to be age-related, visiting the GP is a good place to start. From here, the older person can be referred on to an audiologist to do more tests.

Elderly man at GP

Many opticians and some large pharmacies offer free hearing tests too, so this can be a good option.

It’s likely that after tests and assessments, hearing aids may well be recommended if there is still some hearing left. These are available on the NHS, where the equipment is loaned to the patient on a long-term basis. Sometimes the recommended hearing aids may be available straight away and in other cases, they may need to be custom-made, and it might require a waiting period and some fitting appointments.

If the hearing loss is age-related, it’s unlikely that there is any treatment that will significantly improve the level of hearing without additional assistance being needed, but things like hearing aids can make a huge difference to daily life and reduce the impact that the hearing loss has.

Modern hearing aid

Hearing aids have a come a long way as technologies have evolved, and they are no longer the bulky and difficult to maintain devices that they used to be. Many types of modern hearing aids are virtually invisible to other people and can easily become part of normal daily life for the wearer.

 

More ways to help older people with hearing loss

There are lots of ways that the loved ones of an elderly person experiencing hearing loss can help make life a little easier and support that individual. These include:

  • Speaking at a reasonable speed and volume, but not shouting or speaking unnaturally slowly
  • Maintaining eye contact when having a conversation with someone who has hearing loss
  • If in a group setting, try to make sure that only one person speaks at any one time, so the person with hearing loss can better keep up with the conversation
  • Finding a place to have a conversation with someone that has hearing loss where there is little background noise
  • Considering an alert system at home that flashes a light when the doorbell goes
  • Considering monitored smoke alarms for their home, so if the smoke alarm goes off, an alert is automatically sent to a 24-hour response team
  • Considering an alarm for the elderly at home, so if they do have a fall or accident, an alert can be raised from the wearable alarm and the response team can speak to them. TakingCare alarm systems have a powerful speaker to help ensure our products are suitable for those who have some hearing loss.
  • If the hearing loss has affected their balance or they seem more frail or less mobile at home, it’s a good idea to read our falls prevention guide to see if any changes need to be made to reduce the risk of accidents and falls.

Installing elderly alarm system

If you’d like to know more about different types of elderly alarm systems and helping keep an older loved one safe at home, our customer service team would be happy to help. Call us on 0800 0875 7371.

Support to keep older relatives independent

If you’d like to know more about different types of elderly alarm systems and helping keep an older loved one safe at home, our Independent Living Advisors would be happy to help.

Freephone 0800 0875 7371

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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