SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Hearing loss and quality of life

Maureen Wendt

Did you know that hearing loss affects nearly 28 million Americans? It can begin gradually, with a buzzing in the ears or the sense that others are mumbling, or it may come suddenly after an illness or accident. Hearing loss can range from very mild, when only faint, high-pitched sounds or voices are not heard, to so severe that even explosive noises can go unnoticed.

Because hearing loss is often gradual, you may not realize that your hearing has declined. Many people lose some hearing by age 30 or 40, and hearing loss typically increases as a person gets older. Gradual age-related hearing loss is normal and is usually greater for men than for women. The reason for this is unknown, but it is suspected that men have been exposed to more damaging noise during their lifetimes in the military service or in their jobs.

And, only 1 in 5 people who need help with their hearing actually get help. This seems low, when you compare it to our acceptance of glasses and contacts for vision problems. Unfortunately, most Americans wait 5 to 7 years before solving their hearing problems.

Common signs of hearing trouble include consistently losing the thread of conversation at a restaurant, thinking that everyone else is mumbling (especially when you're in a crowd), ringing in your ears and/or denying having a hearing problem.

People in a hearing study said their inability to hear properly had caused major family arguments. Relationships and careers both take a hit, too. As a result of low hearing, people may give the wrong answer because they heard a different question, can appear distant or vacant like they are not paying attention, or may be perceived as not being team players because they withdraw.

People with normal hearing have a wide range between the quietest sound they can hear and the loudness which will be painful or irritating. For the hard of hearing, this range will be much smaller. Sounds may have to be quite loud to be heard, but if the sounds are even a little louder they may be too loud and become painful.

Hearing loss is greater for consonants than for vowels. S, Z, T, F and G are particularly difficult to tell apart, causing difficulty in hearing words correctly. Similar words such as cat and sat can be difficult to discriminate. People should be aware that even if the sounds can be heard, they might not always be heard correctly.

Hearing is important to more than communication. It is also a way of getting signals from the surroundings and therefore relates to safety. People who work or live with a hard of hearing person should keep this in mind. People in the community should also consider that an older person crossing the street may or may not hear a car horn.

Hearing challenged individuals are also at a higher risk of falls, depression and cognitive problems. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but the isolation that comes with missing out on social exchanges may well play a role.

Hearing loss affects several aspects of a person's life and the lives of their family and friends. Learning how to handle the hearing loss can be beneficial to everyone. If you are family or friend of a person with reduced hearing, my hope is that you too will gain some ideas about how to help your relatives and/or friends with their hearing loss.

The public is invited to a free hearing screening on Feb. 26 from noon to 2 p.m. at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario St., Lockport. Screenings are free of charge. The audiologist will conduct a one on one screening and consultation with each individual to help them determine if further assistance is needed. Nancy Smith, Vision and Hearing Program coordinator, will also have resources available in the community to assist with hearing loss as we age. Please call 433-1886 and to schedule your hearing screening. All are welcome.

The Dale Association offers free programs for the visually and hearing impaired. These programs are designed to enrich the lives of people 60 and older living with visual and /or hearing impairment by providing: educational seminars, referral information, screenings, in-home assessments, assistive device resource center, ongoing support and an on-site desktop electronic magnifier. Nancy Smith can link you or your family to community services and answer your questions about hearing and vision, all in an effort to help provide an improved quality of life.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit .

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