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Why it’s time to get that hearing aid out of the drawer

Older people and hearing loss

By Duncan Collet-Fenson, Audiologist and MD of Aston Hearing

Around 11 million Brits are currently suffering from hearing loss. Six million of them could currently benefit from wearing hearing aids, but only one third of them have hearing aids – and only 30% of those who have them, use them daily. There is often a 10-year delay between the onset of hearing loss in older people and the time that they actively seek help. So why don’t people get their hearing checked and use hearing aids when they could be so life-changing?

Why people don’t get a hearing aid

We know that some people won’t get a hearing aid because:

  • Hearing aids still carry the burden of huge social stigma. People still view hearing aids as big, ugly and obvious bits of plastic that clasp over your ears.
  • People may deny that they have a hearing problem, and actually argue that it’s everyone else who has the problem! They might also struggle to recognise the symptoms, or these symptoms can even get confused with those of dementia.
  • Some people don’t believe there’s much that can be done about it and it is just something that happens as you get older. They don’t want to be any trouble and don’t like to mention that things aren’t entirely as they should be. Maybe they think it isn’t life-threatening and they may have other medical issues they feel they have to prioritise.
  • Many people simply don’t know where to go to get their hearing tested or where to go if they suddenly lose their hearing. Should they see a specialist consultant, an audiologist, the GP, the nurse who used to do their syringing, or the optical shop that says they test hearing too?
  • Many fear that the cost of hearing aids might be prohibitive and therefore put off dealing with their hearing issues for as long as possible.
  • Getting to an audiologist appointment to be tested can be difficult for the less mobile and particularly the bed bound.

Why people won’t use their hearing aids

Some elderly patients have a hearing aid but may not be using it. Why is that?

  • Some are worried about losing the hearing aid whilst they are out and about, so they don’t take it out of the house and might even keep in their drawer or pocket. They might be concerned about being a nuisance and the cost of replacement if they lose it.
  • There also many myths about hearing aids which are based on the old hearing aids that used to be huge and needed constant volume adjusting by the user.
  • If they are new to hearing aids they may worry that they are difficult to handle, Even changing the battery might be awkward and the thought of adjusting a hearing aid when out and about may fill them with dread.

Answering the objections

We know there is a lot to contend with to break down social stigmas and myths, so let’s get to the bottom of the truth about hearing aids!

It takes a little time to get hearing aids just right. Hearing aids don’t necessarily work instantly like a pair of glasses might, because our brains needs time to adjust to the heightened sound. Sometimes they will need tweaking over a couple of appointments to ensure they are perfectly suited to an individual’s hearing. It’s worthwhile being patient though, because once it’s right it can change a life.

Hearing technology has evolved massively in recent years. Hearing aids are now capable of seamlessly streaming phone calls, the TV and music instantly. Most are barely visible and some even allow users to text, translate languages, monitor their activity and even measure their blood pressure! Users don’t need to adjust their hearing aids themselves and they don’t have to take it out to answer the telephone.

Hearing tests are just as important as eyesight tests for the over 45s. We should check our hearing just as regularly as we check our sight. If you realised your sight wasn’t as good as it was previously, you would likely go to your optician. Your hearing should be checked every three years between the ages of 45-60, every two years if you are over 60 or sooner if you suspect any sort of hearing loss. The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat.

Hearing loss doesn’t have to be permanent. Wax build up can be a major reason for poor hearing and getting that sorted might be the simple cure! Microsuction is the safest method of wax removal. An ear infection could also cause hearing loss and can usually easily be treated.

Rechargeable hearing aids are now available. Rechargeable hearing aids remove the difficulty associated with changing batteries on a regular basis, especially if your finger mobility is impaired.

Why everyone should get their hearing tested

Dementia, depression, falls and strokes have all been linked to untreated hearing loss. It has also been suggested that hearing loss leads to longer hospitalisations, readmissions and more visits to casualty.

Although hearing loss can affect anyone at any age there is a direct correlation with ageing. Around 50% of people above the age of 75 experience hearing loss. It occurs because the delicate hair cells within the inner ear are worn down, making them less effective as they require higher volumes to be stimulated. This means average volumes sound muffled and unclear.

Age-related hearing loss generally gets gradually worse. This sometimes makes it more difficult to notice – especially during its early stages.

The symptoms of hearing loss are often misinterpreted as early signs of dementia. For example, memory loss, repetition, disorganisation, a feeling of vacancy, loss of confidence and concentration, trouble socialising and making poor judgements all qualify as symptoms of both hearing loss and dementia – giving us another reason to get our hearing checked regularly.

The fact is as we age, so do our ears. We will all need to be hearing well for longer in order to stay employed, stay social and as part of good overall health. We need to start prioritising our hearing now.  It is life-changing to be able to hear well.

 

  • If you found this article useful, you may like to read When They Get Older’s guide to helping make life better for those with hearing loss, available from our downloads page.
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