How to Cope with Hearing Loss

by Melissa Chichester

Have you ever felt frustrated or ashamed that you couldn’t follow a conversation well?

Or have you ever missed part of a conversation when a woman or a child was speaking? If so, you might be experiencing hearing loss.

According to the National Institute on Aging, one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 experience hearing loss, and half of people older than 75 experience trouble with their hearing. Hearing loss is a very common problem with several causes, including noise, aging, genetics, and disease.

Hearing loss and depression

Why should hearing loss be taken seriously? In 2018, a health report analyzed hearing loss data from more than 150,000 people older than 50. During the study (a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University, AARP Services Inc., OptumLabs and University of California, San Francisco), it was discovered that for many seniors, hearing loss led to a greater risk of depression. And besides that, hearing loss is integral to maintaining personal safety.

Older adults who struggle with hearing loss often feel ashamed, embarrassed, and depressed. When people with hearing loss can’t understand what is being said, they often experience being misunderstood by others because they can’t hear well.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports the following about hearing loss:

  • About 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss.
  • This rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64.
  • About 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids.
  • Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69.
  • Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis.

Types of hearing loss

Hearing loss ranges from mild to a total loss of hearing, and there are two general types, sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

  • Sensorineural: the inner ear or auditory nerve has been damaged
  • Conductive: sound waves cannot reach the inner ear

The main difference between these two types of hearing loss is that conductive hearing loss can usually be restored. It is often caused by a punctured eardrum or earwax buildup. Sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent and caused by age or prolonged exposure to noise.

What about tinnitus?

Tinnitus is ringing in the ears and is usually a symptom of something else. It is not a disease.

Tinnitus can be caused by repeated exposure to loud sounds (such as attending a concert), head injuries, earwax buildup, and as a side effect of medication.

Even allergies can cause tinnitus. It can also present itself as buzzing or roaring rather than ringing. Tinnitus may occur in one ear or both ears. If tinnitus is ongoing and disruptive, it should be discussed with a physician.

Signs of hearing loss

Do you have a hearing problem? You might not even know it! Common signs of hearing loss include:

  • Trouble following conversations
  • Problems hearing on the phone
  • Asking others to repeat what they are saying
  • Turning the TV or radio volume up that results in others complaining
  • Asking others to speak slowly
  • Thinking people are mumbling
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Problems hearing against background noise

Coping with hearing loss

It can be difficult to cope with hearing loss; however, acknowledging it can greatly improve your quality of life. Consider taking the following actions to make living with hearing loss easier:

  • Inform friends and family that you have a hearing problem
  • Ask others to speak slowly and clearly
  • Ask others to speak louder, but not shout
  • Watch facial expressions and gestures
  • Ask people to repeat what they said if necessary
  • Turn down background noise, like the TV

Hearing problems that are ignored or untreated can get worse. If you have a hearing problem, see your doctor. Hearing aids, training, certain medicines, and surgery are just some of the treatments that can help.

If hearing problems are interfering with your everyday life, talk with your medical practitioner.

Age-related hearing loss is normal and occurs gradually. And remember, hearing loss is nothing to feel ashamed about.