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What Causes Hearing Loss In Older Adults And Top Tips For Supporting Them

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) , hearing loss affects around 18 million people in the UK. Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is experienced by over 50% of people aged 55 or over and 80% of those over 70.

Various factors cause older adults to be susceptible to hearing loss. In this post, we’ll cover those factors and how to identify if your loved one is struggling with hearing loss. We’ll also provide some tips to help support them.

Our bodies can experience a lot of wear and tear as we age, and our hearing is no different. Presbycusis typically occurs due to loss or damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Other factors that can contribute to hearing loss include:

  • overexposure to loud noise (such as music or work-related)
  • issues affecting the middle ear
  • a build-up of wax
  • ear infection
  • damage to the ear
  • a family history of hearing loss
  • certain medical conditions

The progression of hearing loss can sometimes be challenging to identify, as it often occurs gradually over time. Here are some of the common signs to look out for if you think your loved one’s hearing may be deteriorating:

  • asking people to repeat what they’ve said
  • needing the TV or radio to be at a high volume
  • difficulty hearing when talking on the phone
  • difficulty hearing someone speak when there’s background noise
  • difficulty keeping up with conversations
  • finding male voices easier to hear than females
  • finding some sounds overly loud or annoying
  • complaining about other’s speech sounding mumbled or slurred
  • complaining of a constant ringing sound (tinnitus) in one or both ears.

If you’re worried about a loved one’s hearing, the most important thing to do is speak to a medical professional (such as a GP). They can help diagnose potential hearing loss and ensure no other underlying medical conditions exacerbate it. Here are some tips you can use to help support a loved one experiencing hearing loss.

When you’re talking to your loved one

  • Reduce background noise or move to a quieter area.
  • Use their name or gently tap them on the arm to get their attention before starting a conversation.
  • Face your loved one when you’re talking to them. Ensure they can see your mouth, facial expressions and gestures (being in a room with adequate lighting is important here too).
  • Speak clearly and slowly. Don’t raise your voice or shout; this is not necessarily clearer and could cause confusion.
  • Make your message clear and straightforward; avoid waffling.
  • Avoid situations where more than one person may be talking simultaneously (where possible).

Use technology and support aids

There are assistive devices available for older adults struggling with hearing loss.

Hearing aids can make sounds louder and clearer for your loved one. They won’t cure hearing loss but can make life much easier and less frustrating. Speak to your GP who can refer you to be assessed for NHS-supplied hearing aids.

Personal listeners. These devices, also known as ‘personal amplifiers’ or ‘conversation listeners’, increase the volume and clarity of sounds. They can be used in conjunction with a hearing aid or without one. They are particularly useful in environments with lots of background noise

At-home help and support

If your loved one’s hearing loss affects their well-being, additional support from a care assistant can help. They can help change hearing aid batteries and tubing, arrange appointments and assist with getting to them, accompany your loved one on errands or social engagements, or pop in for a chat and a cup of tea.