Should you be concerned?
Hearing loss affects 30% of the population over 65 and 50% of the population over 75. All of us have some degree of difficulty hearing noisy situations. However, a majority of us dismiss the increased difficulty as we age. Age related hearing loss typically develops over a period of 15-20 years. The slow decline in hearing is unnoticed day to day but eventually through family pressure or individual recognition, there comes a point where the loss is interfering with social need and a hearing assessment is obtained.
Hearing is measured for a variety of tones of varying pitch or frequency. The most common finding in age related hearing loss is a loss of high frequency sensitivity. This creates a loss of clarity. A common statement from many patients is they hear fine …they just don’t catch what you said. Hearing may remain near normal in the low frequencies where we perceive the volume of voice but the loss of the high frequency sensitivity results in the loss of clarity of many of the consonant sounds such as “s”’ “sh”, “th”. Difficulty hearing conversation arises from two conditions – distance and noise. As the hearing loss progresses distance and noise become factors in effective communication. Normal conversation which used to take place at 20 feet are no longer possible and requires that the hearing impaired individual needs to be approached to carry on a conversation. Noise is typically the most devastating with the hearing impaired unable to cope and restricts social contact with others.
The early stages of hearing loss typically have a greater effect on the wife or husband of the individual than on themselves. The need for the TV to be louder, not being able to converse without approaching the individual or repeating a statement a number of times causes tension more with the spouse than the individual affected. The expenditure of energy to having to stop what you are doing, approach the individual and repeat the statement is more taxing than saying “what?” As hearing loss progresses social life often becomes more restricted leading to feelings of depression. Delaying in acting upon a treatable hearing loss condition has significant consequences. The more our hearing system is deprived of normal stimulation, the less efficient it becomes. An attempt to rehabilitate hearing through hearing aid use after years of delay creates more difficulty adapting to the hearing aid. In addition it has been shown that hearing loss left untreated can contribute to dementia.
It is important that everyone at age 65 receive a baseline assessment of hearing ability in order that any deficiency is properly assessed and managed. The Audiologist is a health care professional trained for the assessment of hearing and balance disorders and the treatment or management of the disorder through non-medical intervention. Where a medically treatable condition is identified the Audiologist will report to your physician for the medical management of the condition.
Assessment of your hearing can be from simple to in depth. A simple screening can identify whether your hearing sensitivity is sufficient but will not give any detail. A pure tone assessment will give a little more accuracy to the test but may not give us a picture of how the loss is affecting speech understanding. In order to fully understand your abilities and needs a full diagnostic battery of tests will identify the cause of the loss and whether there are any medically treatable conditions. We also assess your abilities with regard to social adequacy assessing your speech understanding abilities for various levels of voice and competing noise situations.
A pure tone assessment may be a satisfactory test for baseline measurement as long as there are no recommendations regarding hearing aid use. However if the loss is of significant degree further in depth assessment is warranted.