Older people shouldn’t play down any hearing problems, nor should they be ashamed of them.
Nevertheless, lots of people refuse help for this issue and end up suffering serious consequences as a result.
Everyone experiences some form of hearing loss as they get older.
Sometimes it begins as early as a person’s 40s, other times, it’s not until they’re between 60 and 65.
”I’m sure there’s no one who still hears normally at the age of 90,” says Dr Christian Betz, director of the ear, nose and throat department at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.
That’s because the lifespan of the inner-ear hair cells is limited and they cannot regenerate themselves.
There’s no way of stopping this process that develops as we age.
Those affected often notice they’re having problems with hearing.
“But it’s not that you suddenly can’t hear or that you no longer notice certain noises,” says Dr Betz.
Rather, “it becomes more difficult to differentiate between them or figure out where they’re coming from”.
In a group, for example, it may become more difficult to follow one person speaking.
The symptoms of deafness can also manifest themselves around the house, sometimes to the detriment of others.
Those affected may not hear the ringing of the telephone or a knock at the door, says Stefan Zimmer, president of Germany’s association of the hearing aid industry (BVHI).
People may also find speaking in groups or on the phone more strenuous.
They can become more easily exhausted, more tense, begin sleeping badly and avoid social contact, he says.
”It becomes alarming when they no longer notice aural warning signals, for example, out on the road,” he adds.
That’s when action needs to be taken.
“If hearing loss is treated in the early stages, it can be prevented from becoming worse,” he says.
Without help, however, a person’s hearing is likely to deteriorate further, and social isolation and depression are possible consequences.
People’s cognitive skills can also degenerate. ”Dementia can be one consequence,” says Dr Betz.
Nevertheless, many people refuse to accept any kind of help.
”Because it’s a gradual process, the unknown number of people who aren’t being adequately treated is very high,” he says.
When asked about it, people often play their symptoms down.
Just like with ringing in the ears, tinnitus, infections or other hearing problems, deafness should first be diagnosed by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
If a hearing aid is prescribed, a hearing care professional will explain the different types of models available and usually offer trial periods.
Afterwards, the experts can help the patient gradually introduce the hearing aid and give them training on how to use it, if necessary.
Some people still dislike the aesthetics of a hearing aid and see it as a stigma.
“The worst thing though is that people have to get used to it,” says Dr Betz.
That’s because a hearing aid doesn’t completely restore your hearing to exactly how it was before.
”It’s a learning process that takes several months,” he says.
”The brain has become used to no longer hearing high sounds.
“When the hearing aids strengthens the high sounds again, the brain finds that disruptive.”
You have to wear the hearing aid every day even if you find it uncomfortable at first, he adds. – By Angelika Mayr/dpa