Elderly Hearing Assessments: Understanding Changes in Hearing and Treatment Options

Hearing loss is a prevalent issue among adults that often develops gradually, making it challenging to detect early on. For many aging individuals, experiencing hearing decline can signify a broader sense of physical vulnerability, sometimes accompanied by a reluctance to embrace hearing aids due to associated stigma. At Stanford Medicine, efforts are underway to redefine this narrative and empower seniors to proactively manage their hearing health.

This article explores the essential aspects of elderly hearing assessments, beginning with comprehensive patient histories that delve into the onset and progression of hearing issues. It highlights modern assessment techniques, such as pure-tone audiometry, which play a crucial role in pinpointing specific frequencies of hearing loss. Moreover, the discussion encompasses preventative measures and contemporary treatment options, emphasising the importance of early intervention in mitigating potential impacts on cognitive function and overall well-being.

Assessing Hearing

An elderly hearing assessment typically starts with a thorough patient history. This includes questions about the nature and onset of hearing problems, how they have changed over time, whether they fluctuate or are constant and their effect on a patient’s daily life. The history should also include details about ear or ringing symptoms, exposure to noise, a family history of hearing loss and any medical or occupational history related to the ears.

To perform objective hearing tests, a clinician may use a screening audiometer or pure-tone audiometry, which is performed in a quiet environment using air conduction via earphones or bone conduction with a small oscillator placed on the mastoid bone behind the ear. The test produces tone bursts at various frequencies and the patient is asked to press a button or raise their hand when they hear the tone. This testing determines the softest sounds that a person can detect and identifies the frequency regions of hearing loss.

The pure-tone test has been shown to have excellent internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) and test-retest reliability. It has high sensitivity and specificity when compared to audiogram-defined disabling hearing loss. A recent study of adults 65 and older found that average hearing thresholds for the better ear were higher in men than women at every frequency, but this was not statistically significant.

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Preventing Hearing Loss

While age-related hearing loss is inevitable, preventing it can help. Encourage older people to limit their exposure to loud noises, wear earplugs in noisy environments, and practice speaking clearly. Talk to your primary care physician if you have concerns about hearing. He or she will examine you and may refer you to an otolaryngologist (a specialist in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and neck) for further testing.

In addition to affecting cognitive function, untreated hearing loss is linked to depression, loneliness, and a higher risk of falls. It also affects public as well as personal safety, when warning sounds are harder to hear. Many older adults don’t realise they have a hearing problem until family members point it out to them. It’s a common misconception that hearing loss is just part of getting older.

Having a good relationship with your primary care doctor can improve your health and quality of life. Your physician can refer you to a specialist for further testing if necessary, and counsel you on how best to manage your hearing loss. Insisting that your doctors discuss hearing with you, rather than leaving it to family members, sends a message that you are involved in your own health care and that you value your relationships with your healthcare providers. It also helps ensure that your care is thorough.

Diagnosing Hearing Loss

Werribee audiologists can diagnose hearing loss in the elderly by performing a physical exam. They may use a lighted scope to examine the outer ears for damage and blockage, like too much earwax or inflammation. They can also check the eardrum for problems. They will do a thorough medical history, including a family history of hearing loss.

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They can then do a series of tests to measure the person’s ability to hear, known as objective hearing assessment. These tests can include whether the person can hear a whispered voice or a watch tick at a specified distance. They can also test their ability to understand speech in noisy environments, such as in a restaurant. The audiologist can then discuss the results of the objective and subjective assessments with the person seeking services and determine their needs.

If the audiologist determines that the person has age-related sensorineural hearing loss (also called presbycusis), the most common treatment option is to use hearing aids, which amplify sounds and send them into the ear. They can help improve the quality of life for people with presbycusis, but they cannot reverse the condition or restore lost hearing. However, advances in hearing aid technology mean that today’s models can be discreet and comfortable. They can adjust to sound thousands of times per second and make speech clearer.

Treating Hearing Loss

If you or a loved one notices hearing loss, it’s important to get it treated right away. The sooner a problem is addressed, the better for the brain and for relationships and social engagement.

If left untreated, hearing loss can lead to other health problems like dementia, depression, heart attacks and falls. It also makes it harder to enjoy things like movies, concerts and church services. And it can affect your ability to communicate on the phone and over the internet.

There are two types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss happens when something stops sound from passing through the outer ear or middle ear. This may be due to earwax buildup, certain medical conditions or side effects of medications. It’s more common to have a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

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Treatments for conductive and sensorineural hearing loss include prescription medication and hearing aids. For the latter, there are different styles and technologies to choose from, including specialised models designed for older adults. Your audiologist can help you pick the best option for your loved one’s lifestyle and needs. For example, older adults often prefer models that are discreet and easy to use. They may also want to look for a device that offers noise reduction technology or automatic features. They can also explore alternative communication strategies, such as lip-reading classes or sign language.

Embracing Hearing Health

In conclusion, understanding and addressing age-related hearing loss is paramount for enhancing the quality of life among elderly individuals. By recognising the gradual nature of hearing impairment and promoting early assessment through comprehensive patient histories and objective tests like pure-tone audiometry, healthcare providers can better tailor interventions. Encouraging preventive measures, such as minimising exposure to loud noises and advocating for timely use of hearing aids, supports optimal hearing health outcomes.

The advancements in hearing aid technology underscore the importance of destigmatising their use, offering discreet and effective solutions that improve communication and social engagement. Ultimately, fostering a proactive approach to hearing health not only enhances individual well-being but also strengthens community resilience against the impacts of untreated hearing loss.

For more information on hearing assessments and treatment options, visit www.melbourneaudiologycentre.com.au today.

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