Our ear’s anatomy is made up of three distinct parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. What’s known as pure-tone audiometry screening can be performed to determine whether there’s any damage to these parts to cause hearing loss and if there’s any impairment, whether the condition can be improved using hearing aids, medication or surgery. This noninvasive and painless test measures a person's ability to hear different sounds, pitches, or frequencies and can also help distinguish whether someone has sensorineural or conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the nerve or cochlea and is common in the elderly, whereas conductive hearing loss is damage to the eardrum or the tiny ossicle bones can be caused by environmental factors like sound or injury to the ears.
The most common condition that can affect anybody with age is a type of hearing loss known as presbycusis. About a third of adults older than 65 suffer from hearing loss and if not attended to, losing the ability to hear can lead to feelings of fear and isolation. It can also pose some risks because it makes it difficult for an older adult to respond to warnings from the sound of smoke alarms or hear the phone or doorbells ringing. There are many causes of presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) ranging from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain to changes in the inner and middle ear.
Adults with hearing loss have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. The risk of dementia increases for those with a hearing loss greater than 25dB. Individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to five times as likely to develop dementia.
Additionally, certain medications like chemotherapy drugs as well as medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or irregularities of the outer ear or middle ear can all result in hearing problems. As such, it can be difficult to distinguish between age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. While you can avoid exposing your ears to damaging sources such as loud music, firearms, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc. and wear earplugs or earmuffs to protect your ears, but, the most important thing you can do if you suspect you have a hearing problem is to seek the expertise of a hearing aid specialist or an audiologist.
Both have specialized training in identifying and measuring the type and degree of hearing loss, plus they can provide hearing tests, fit and test electronic hearing aids if needed and even offer counseling. It is vital to get a hearing test occasionally for the following reasons:
- It can help determine if any hearing loss has occurred
- If it has occurred, you can take necessary action to fix the issue like wearing and programming hearing aids
- Hearing loss may be a symptom of a perforated eardrum, ossicle bone damage, an earwax impaction or issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease. In this case, a hearing test can help determine the cause and offer effective treatment options
- Hearing loss can have an impact on social and family relationships and catching it early can help others understand you better instead of misinterpreting your actions as being rude or off-putting