General Health Article:

Coping with hearing loss as we age

Everyone seems to be mumbling. Noises run together. You get frustrated at social gatherings because you can't understand much of what's being said. So you stay home, avoiding people, rather than face the embarrassment of hearing loss.

If you were having trouble seeing, you probably wouldn't hesitate to make an appointment for glasses or contacts. But, somehow, hearing loss is another matter. Lots of people wear glasses, but a hearing aid?

Be it vanity, a lack of awareness, or concern over medical costs, many older adults have trouble confronting a problem that affects some 28 million Americans - or one in 10 people - according to the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

Age-related hearing loss begins about age 55, generally affects both ears and is a permanent condition that worsens with time. Those over the age of 65 rank it as one of the most limiting of health problems, second only to arthritis.

Yet about 60 percent of people who need hearing aids go without. They may deny the problem, get angry and blame others: "Stop your mumbling!"

Psychologists who work with the hard-of-hearing say their patients go through a process similar to grieving. After denial and anger may come depression, self-imposed isolation and, eventually, acceptance.

Besides showing patience and understanding, family and friends can help by speaking clearly, slowly and face-to-face in quieter places, according to HAP.

Here are some more tips from the Partnership for dealing with hearing loss.

  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor or an ear specialist for a hearing test. A hearing aid, if one is recommended, won't restore all your hearing, but can make it easier to cope.
  • Don't shop for a hearing aid as you would a new pair of reading glasses. With the vast array of products, styles, sizes and options out there, it takes an expert to find and adjust the one for you.
  • Be aware that advances in technology have resulted in smaller and more sophisticated hearing aids. Those that fit entirely inside the ear canal, for example, are next to invisible.
  • Find the right hearing care. For information on hearing loss as well as professionals who provide hearing care and sell hearing aids, contact the Washington State Association-Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) or the American Academy of Audiology or call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464 or TTY: 206-448-5025).
  • Don't let cost be the deciding factor and end up with an ineffective hearing aid that you won't use. Also, when purchasing a hearing aid, be clear on costs and what's included. Some hearing aid dispensers bill separately for testing, hearing aids and services. Some don't.

A comprehensive guide on hearing loss and hearing aids is available free of charge through AARP, a HAP member agency. Email member@aarp.org and give your name, mailing address, the title of the booklet, "Consumer Guide to Hearing Aids," and the stock number: D17177.

Information on coping with hearing loss - as well as on other issues related to living a healthier, happier life as an older adult - also is available by calling the free and confidential help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464 or TTY: 206-448-5025) or checking out the HAP Web site. HAP is supported by its partner agencies, Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.