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Hearing loss

Hearing loss causes significant social and personal difficulties for older people. It results in communication difficulties and can lead to depression, confusion and isolation.

What are the causes of hearing loss?

  • Presbycusis (progressive deafness associated with ageing is the most common cause).
  • Noise exposure.
  • Use of drugs which can affect hearing.
  • Medical disorders, eg. underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
  • Infections, eg. shingles (herpes zoster).

How common is it?

Hearing impairment is a common health problem in older people. It is estimated that 25%-60% of the over 65s have some type of hearing loss. It increases with age in both sexes. The majority of people with hearing loss in the community do not seek medical attention. Only a minority of hearing loss comes to the attention of patients' doctors.

What can be done about it?

It is more appropriate to address the older person's hearing difficulty than to shout and suffer miscommunication. In many instances, significant improvement can be achieved with relatively simple measures. Your doctor can check in the ears for wax — a significant cause of temporary deafness. Hearing aids will improve hearing for those suffering hearing loss due to the ageing process. Many older people are slow to wear hearing aids due to the apparent stigma attached to their use. However, they should be encouraged to ignore this. Modern hearing aids are more discreet and a number of different models are available. Correct advice from an expert on the choice of hearing aid and regular maintenance, including replacement of failing batteries, is vital for effective use.

Advice for carers of an older person with hearing loss

  • Be patient and sympathetic.
  • Repeat yourself slowly and clearly in a normal voice.
  • If not understood the first time, change the words you are using and try again.
  • Lip reading can be important.
  • Face the person when addressing them.
  • Stand in clear light.
  • Do not cover your mouth when speaking.
  • Do not smoke while talking.
  • Write something down if necessary.
  • Be aware of fatigue in the older person.
  • If necessary, try again later.

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