Visit your doctor if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss.
An audiologist can run tests to determine the severity and type of your hearing loss.
There are several signs of hearing loss, including straining to hear conversations.
Talk to your audiologist about which type of hearing aid is right for you.
There are several styles and features to consider when purchasing a hearing aid.
Your hearing aid won’t restore hearing, but it will help considerably.
You’re starting to notice signs of hearing loss. Perhaps you’re straining to hear conversations, especially in large groups. Maybe you’re having trouble hearing someone on the phone or catching dialogue in movies or shows. You’re constantly asking those around you to repeat themselves or speak up. These are all indications that you should get your hearing checked by a health professional. Hearing loss is common in older age. About one in three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss. And nearly one in two people over 75 have difficulty hearing. Despite these high numbers, many older adults are reluctant to admit they’re affected. They may even become withdrawn and depressed as their hearing loss worsens.
Signs of hearing loss
When experiencing hearing loss, you might:
Find it difficult to understand people when you can’t see their faces.
Strain to hear conversations, especially in big groups.
Complain about others speaking too quietly.
Regularly ask people to repeat themselves, especially in loud settings.
Need to listen to the television or radio at a high volume.
Have a hard time understanding what someone is saying over the phone.
Have difficulty understanding dialogue in theater productions or films.
Become more frustrated, irritable or withdrawn.
The most common form of hearing loss is called high-frequency loss, in which it’s easier to understand sounds in the low-and mid-pitched range, such as vowels: o, ooh, ah, a, e. But there’s more difficulty hearing in the higher-pitched range that includes consonant sounds: s, sh, f, th. For people with high-frequency loss, these are softer and harder to hear. Speech, in this case, may not be loud enough and sound jumbled or lack clarity. The problem is even worse when there’s background noise or when the person talking is far away.
It’s important to be aware of these early warning signs so that you can get tested by a health professional for hearing loss.
How to find out if you need a hearing aid
An audiologist might run tests to assess the severity and the type of your hearing loss. While hearing tests are available online, they don’t meet the same standards as an audiology test, which is run in a sound-treated room with special equipment.
Moreover, online tests won’t tell you the root cause of your hearing loss. The cause of your hearing issues may be easily treatable, such as excessive earwax, which doesn’t require a hearing aid. That’s why it’s important to work with a doctor.
It’s also important to note that audiologist testing is free of cost for those with Medicare.
In addition to visiting your doctor and seeing an audiologist, it’s best to take a few more steps before fully investing in a hearing aid.
First check with a doctor to determine the cause of your hearing loss before investing time and money into hearing tests and hearing aids. Some hearing loss is due to mechanical issues, such as earwax buildup, tumors or diabetes. Once these causes are excluded, high-frequency age-related hearing loss is a frequent diagnosis.
If your doctor does recommend hearing aids:
Ask for a trial period, so you can get used to the device and find out if it’s right for you.
Consider your future needs. Can the volume increase in case your hearing loss progresses?
Check for a warranty.
Be aware of misleading advertising (e.g. claiming that hearing aids can restore your hearing, which they can’t do).
Budget for the cost of your hearing aid, which can vary widely.
Find the hearing aid that's right for you
Once you’ve established that you need a hearing aid, you’ll have to find one that’s right for you. This will depend on the type and degree of your hearing loss. Do you have hearing loss in both ears? If so, it’s usually recommended to get two hearing aids.
You should talk to your audiologist about different hearing aid options and find one that best suits your needs and lifestyle. The devices vary in price and can range from hundreds to several thousand dollars. Keep in mind that just because a hearing aid is more expensive, doesn’t necessarily mean it will best suit your needs.
You should also be aware that hearing aids don’t restore your normal hearing, though they will amplify the sounds around you, and help you understand them better. The degree to which hearing aids can help you will also depend on how severe your hearing loss is. A mild hearing loss is easier to treat than a moderate or severe one. For people with severe or profound hearing loss who aren’t helped enough by hearing aids, a cochlear implant can be an option.
There are several types of styles and features to consider before purchasing a hearing aid. These include:
Completely-in-the-canal hearing aid molded to fit inside your ear canal.
In the canal, which fits partly in the ear canal.
In-the-ear, which has two styles: full shell and half shell.
Behind-the-ear, which hooks over the top of your ear and rests behind it.
Receiver-in-canal and receiver-in-the-ear, which use a tiny receiver that sits in the ear canal.
Open fit has a receiver-in-the-canal or ‑ear fit with an open dome in the ear.
Some styles are better suited to different degrees of hearing loss. The smaller choices — such as completely in-the-canal — are only available if you have a mild hearing loss. Optional features for hearing aids might include noise reduction, rechargeable batteries, remote controls and more.
What to expect from your hearing aid
While hearing aids help considerably, they won’t help you hear exactly as you did before, and they can’t mimic all the frequencies available to a person with full hearing. Instead, they amplify sounds within a certain range of pitches. For this reason, it’s important to come up with alternative communication methods for situations in which hearing is still difficult. For example, you might try using a speech-to-text smartphone app if you’re having an in-person conversation in which you can’t understand the speaker.
Make sure to allow yourself time to get used to a hearing aid. Practice using it in different settings and follow up with your audiologist in case adjustments or alterations need to be made.
While it’s common to experience hearing loss in older age, many seniors are resistant to using a hearing aid. For adults 70 years old and up who have hearing loss, fewer than 30 percent have ever used hearing aids. Even fewer adults between the ages of 20 and 69 who could benefit from hearing aids have used them. For some, it can be difficult to come to terms with age-related hearing loss. And it could be even harder to take the steps necessary to get a hearing aid. Nevertheless, it’s important to notice the signs of hearing loss and take action as soon as possible. It could improve the quality of your life and the lives of those around you.