The latest research from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging showed that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing.1 When I read this, I was expecting to see the suggestion that the use of hearing aids can, therefore, help prevent dementia. Unfortunately, that recommendation did not come (hearing aid use is the subject of the researchers’ next study). So are there any lessons for a family caregiver of an elderly person who is exhibiting signs of hearing loss?
First, it is important to know that there are different kinds of hearing loss, some of which are due to medication side effects or illness, and are curable. It is important to identify and treat this kind of hearing loss as soon as possible. The most common type of hearing loss among the elderly, however, is not curable. Presbycusis is the slow loss of hearing that occurs as people get older and the affliction affects about 40-50 percent of people aged 75 and over.2 Depending on the severity of the condition, presbycusis can significantly affect quality of life; sufferers may feel increasing frustration and isolation as their ability to hear and follow conversation diminishes.
Being a family caregiver can be especially challenging when the person you’re caring for cannot hear well. And many elderly people—in fact 20% of those hard of hearing—resist getting their hearing tested and seeking treatment. Even after getting a diagnosis, people often wait years to get fitted for their first hearing aids!3
Why so much resistance? For some people, hearing loss happens so gradually they don’t realize the impact. Others don’t want to admit they are aging, and some people just object to hearing aids—either they don’t like the way they look or have heard they are ineffective.
As a family caregiver, it’s worth it to talk with your loved one about getting their hearing checked, because even for incurable conditions, such as presbycusis, there are effective ways to improve hearing, and therefore your loved one’s quality of life.