HEALTH & WELLNESS Middle Age Maladies  >  Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You Hear Me Now?
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By Kathleen Heins

Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, can sneak up on you. Affecting both ears, it happens gradually as we age and is painless. It’s caused when the tiny hair cells inside the inner ear are damaged or die. Their job is to pick up sound waves and change them into nerve signals that the brain is able to translate as sound. Often it is family members that notice the hearing loss and communication problems first, says Pamela Mason, MEd, CCC-A, director of audiology professional practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Since the hair cells are unable to regrow, once you’ve lost them, you can’t get them back. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, one out of three people 65 and over suffer from hearing loss.

Don’t live in denial

To determine if you have a hearing problem, ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to three or more of them, says the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), you should get your hearing checked:

  • Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone or cell phone?
  • Do I have trouble hearing when there is noise in the background?
  • Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at the same time?
  • Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
  • Do many people I talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
  • Do I misunderstand what others are saying?
  • Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?

Presbycusis affects our ability to hear the high-pitched sounds first,  explains Mason. As a result, some with hearing problems have trouble differentiating between certain consonant sounds. The individual can hear the voiced vowel sounds but cannot distinguish those consonant sounds so speech sounds muffled and people make rhyming mistakes

When Washington, D.C. artist Phyllis Beek realized she had a hearing problem when hitting midlife, she didn’t hesitate to seek help. Active, outgoing, and fun-loving she didn’t want hearing issues to interfere with her enjoyment of life. We live in a cacophony of all sorts of noises and we must discriminate to know how to proceed in every sort of manner, she states.

Protecting your hearing

There’s a lot you can do to preserve your hearing. For starters, avoid places where the noise level is uncomfortable. If you’re not able to, take protective measures by doing the following:

  • Use hearing protection. Check out your local drugstore, hardware store or sports shop for ear plugs or earmuffs. Ear plugs block the canal. They are available in different sizes and shapes but can also be custom made. Earmuffs fit over the entire ear. They can also be worn along with ear plugs; a good plan of action when noise levels are particularly high. Ears should be protected, says Mason, while doing such loud activities as mowing the lawn and using power tools or during long haul flights.
  • Move away from loud sounds. If you can’t, stick a finger in each ear. This is particularly helpful when an emergency vehicle is speeding by.
  • Don’t blast your tunes. When listening to personal listening devices, keep the volume level set in the middle. Speak up if the music is too loud at your local fitness class. If you don’t get anywhere, throw a set of ear plugs in your workout bag. The same goes for your favorite bar or restaurant. Other patrons will most likely thank you.
  • Be a cautious consumer. If a product, such as a dishwasher, makes noise, look for a quiet as possible version before buying. Silence, or close to it, really is golden!

The NIDCD says that even one-time exposure to a loud sound; such as an explosion, or exposure to loud sounds over time, can result in noise-induced hearing loss.  If it’s too loud, too close or lasts too long, the organization states, use protection or move away!

Other contributors

In addition to age-related changes and exposure to loud noises, genetics also contributes to hearing loss. Smoking, some medications and medical conditions, such as diabetes, can also be culprits. You can also experience hearing loss as the result of diseases such as osteosclerosis, Menieres disease or an autoimmune inner ear disease as well as an acoustic neuroma. A bacterial or viral infection, aggressive Q-tip action, or head injury can cause hearing problems as well.

Get tested

Don’t hesitate to get tested. Some hearing problems can be due to something as simple as too much wax in the ear or a side effect of medication. Annual exams are a good place to voice concerns and get appropriate referrals, says Mason. ASHA has a self-test at ASHA also offers a full library of patient education handouts at

In some cases you need to act right away. You should seek medical help immediately, says the NIDCD, if you have a sudden change in your hearing or experience hearing loss along with headache, vision problems or dizziness.

Hearing loss related to aging often gets worse as we age but it can be managed. Treatment options include hearing aids and telephone amplifiers. Hearing loss is more noticeable to others than a hearing aid, stresses Mason. When you can’t hear properly others may think you are either ignoring them or being inattentive. Left untreated, it can greatly diminish ones quality of life.

Worried about how hearing aids look? According to the Better Hearing Institute in Washington, D.C., today’s state-of-the-art hearing aids are not only highly effective but sleek and sophisticated. Many are invisible, automatically adjust to the sound around you, are waterproof, and can even connect wirelessly to not only your television but all your other high-tech gadgets such as your smartphone or computer. With some models you can even recharge them, along with your phone, while you sleep.

My hearing aids are my lifeline, says artist Beek. I could not exist and use my brain without them. Thanks to her hearing aids, she states, her active lifestyle has not missed a beat.

Need a few more reasons to get tested? There is new research that indicates that untreated hearing loss can lead to depression and dementia. It can also put you at an increased risk of falls. There is no need to struggle with hearing problems. The sandwich generation should remember to take care of themselves because many people rely on them, says audiologist Mason. Hearing well keeps you young and engaged.



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