I can understand your frustration. Many of my clients ask the same question or go further: why will seniors with hearing loss ignore it, yet everyone with vision loss wears glasses with no problem? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to addressing seniors with hearing impairments without looking at why it matters and how to advocate for them.
Just the Facts
What causes all this hearing loss? Some of it is part of the aging process or a lifetime of noise exposure, but it can result from genetics. Medications and health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes may also play a role.
According to the National Institute on Aging, one-third of people aged 65 to 74 have some level of hearing impairment. Over the age of 75, that figure jumps to one-half. On top of those statistics, 80 percent of people over 60 have lost high-frequency hearing, the range of women’s voices, children laughing, and birds chirping.
Of the total number of seniors with hearing loss, only 20 percent seek treatment. Clearly, hearing loss is more prevalent than most people realize, yet tackling this healthcare problem does not seem a high priority.
While some of the issue is vanity, the rest may have more to do with stigma than stubbornness. Hearing loss has long been considered an old person’s health problem, and the options were once bulky and conspicuous.
Because many people just accept the situation, they may not push legislators to make changes in public policy to cover the often-expensive treatment options or even the medical visits to assess hearing. Only four states in the country require insurance to include hearing loss treatment options, leaving most seniors with hearing loss on their own to pay for aids or assistive devices.
Medicare only covers hearing testing currently, although legislation to include hearing aid coverage is a consideration in the works. Some Medicare Advantage insurance plans also cover some of the expense of treatment options for hearing loss. With open enrollment coming up, you may want to check your loved one’s policy to see what hearing aid coverage they offer.
Why It Matters
If your loved one frequently asks you to repeat what you’ve said, turns the television volume louder, or gets easily frustrated, you may suspect cognitive decline instead of hearing loss. Remember that older adults may not speak up when they feel embarrassed, as is the case for some with hearing loss. Instead, they may limit their social interactions to hide what is happening, leading to isolation, depression, and even dementia.
Seniors with hearing loss can also have a higher risk of falling because of a loss of balance. While the brain works overtime to process auditory sensory information, it may have less ability to recognize balance problems.
How To Help
What can you do to help your loved one overcome the embarrassment or stigma of hearing loss? Allow them to grieve that loss. Like with vision problems, hearing loss is just that, a loss, and it takes time to accept it and learn how to live with it.
Focus on the positive aspects of treatment. With hearing aids, older adults can stay connected to friends, live a healthier lifestyle, and maintain a sharper mind. That seems to be a good trade-off for using an assistive device.
Work with your loved one’s medical provider to schedule a hearing test or make a referral to an audiologist or ENT specialist. After testing, your loved one may have some choices to make about the style of hearing aid to get and whether a prescription is needed. Be sure to ask about a trial period to help your loved one adjust and any warranty coverage if it does not function properly.
Hopefully, once seniors with hearing loss try out aids and experience the benefits, they can let go of any reluctance they may have had about treatment.