As we get older, the nerve circuits in the inner ear deteriorate. The nerves that carry information to the brain and the nerves that filter and refine sound eventually become less proficient. It takes longer to decode sound signals. The filters that purify the sound do not work as well, so background noise can become bothersome. The inner ear becomes more fragile. For instance, a loud sound will injure the inner ear of a senior more than a younger person. In addition, the injury can take longer to heal, if it is ever able to heal at all.
Exposure to noise is the most common cause of hearing loss in seniors. The effects of loud noise on the inner ear are cumulative as a person ages, so medical experts say it important to protect your hearing health by decreasing or eliminating noise exposure by wearing protective earplugs or ear guards when working around noisy equipment or listening to loud music.
Some medications, especially cancer chemotherapies, are also associated with hearing loss. Genetics is another known cause of hearing loss in the elderly. Some families have hearing loss that presents and worsens with age even if there is no other obvious cause for the hearing challenge.
Changes that improve general health — such as adopting a low-sodium diet, and managing diabetes, hypertension, vascular disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and cholesterol and lipids — play an important role in hearing health. Caffeine can affect the inner ear in some people, causing hearing loss, tinnitus, ear pressure and dizziness, so making some lifestyle changes may actually prevent hearing loss.
For patients who cannot correct their auditory deficit through treatments and surgery, audiologists will fit them with hearing aids that range from a basic self-adjust model to a full self-adjusting Bluetooth design that can pair with televisions and mobile devices.
There is also coaching available for senior patients on how to care for their hearing aids. Decreased vision or stiff or arthritic fingers can be a challenge for elders in replacing batteries or handling the smaller components of hearing aids. Some doctors will offer cords on the hearing aids, so even if the person took a hearing aid out, it would stay attached to their clothing so they don’t lose it. Newer hearing aids with Bluetooth compatibility will work with a Find My Hearing Aids app.
Hearing is important, since statistics indicate that people with poor hearing often isolate themselves. Good hearing allows older patients to interact meaningfully with their peers and family. Meaningful communication with family and friends improves the quality of life as we age.