Undertreated & Undiagnosed: Age-Related Hearing Loss

Undertreated & Undiagnosed: Age-Related Hearing Loss

Did you know that nearly 1 in 6 people have some degree of hearing loss? Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition older adults experience today. Though it is pervasive, hearing loss remains widely undertreated. Only one-third of people who could benefit from hearing loss treatment receive it. Untreated hearing loss has multifaceted effects – straining communication, relationships, social life, and overall health. Recognizing early signs and intervening to prioritize hearing health can significantly enhance the quality of life. 

Hearing Loss is Often Undertreated

As we age, the incidence of treatable hearing loss increases. Age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis, and according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

  • 1 in 3 adults, ages 65 – 74 have hearing loss
  • 1 in 2 adults, ages 75 and older have disabling hearing loss

Though hearing loss is common among older adults, it is often undiagnosed. Numerous studies show that many people with hearing loss remain untreated.  This includes a recent study conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Researchers investigated the scope of untreated hearing loss by surveying nearly 2,500 adults. They found that: 

  • 2 in 10 adults have had a hearing test in the past 5 years, compared to 6 in 10 adults who have had their vision tested. 
  • More than 51% of people reported hearing issues but only 11% have sought treatment. 
  • 78% of those with hearing issues have been experiencing these challenges for 1 or more years, and over 35% have had trouble for 5 or more years. 

This data highlights how hearing health is often not prioritized and that symptoms tend to be ignored and unaddressed. 

Recognizing Early Signs

It takes an average of 7 years for people to address hearing loss symptoms. Contributing to this delay in treatment is that hearing loss typically occurs gradually so it can remain unnoticed for quite some time. Being able to recognize symptoms can better help you identify changes to your hearing health that need to be treated. Early signs of hearing loss include the following: 

  • Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing-like noise in one or both ears. 
  • Sounds are muffled or slurred. 
  • Struggling to hear in environments with background noise. 
  • Lip reading to help distinguish individual words. 
  • Increasing the volume of electronic devices (phone, TV, speaker, etc.). 
  • Pretending to hear to get through a conversation. 
  • Being able to hear more clearly out of one ear compared to the other. 
  • Missing words or parts of a conversation, experiencing miscommunication. 
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or speak slower. 
  • Finding yourself saying “huh” or “what” in response to what others are saying. 
  • Feeling fatigued after conversations and social interactions. 

These symptoms can be mild to significant depending on the degree of hearing loss present. Since the symptoms make it challenging to engage in conversations,  people often avoid communication. This can lead to social withdrawal which includes spending less time with others and skipping out on events that were once enjoyable. Strained communication and social withdrawal can take a toll on mental health as well as increase further health risks. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to be associated with an increase in accidental injuries due to falls. There is also data suggesting that hearing loss is closely associated with cognitive decline.

Seeking Treatment

Fortunately, there are effective treatment options that transform hearing health. The first step is to have your hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This evaluation identifies the type and degree of hearing loss and this then informs the type of treatment that will effectively meet your hearing needs. 

Hearing aids are the most common treatment used to manage hearing loss. Hearing aids are electronic devices that absorb, amplify, and process speech making it easier to hear and understand. Today’s devices are more innovative and advanced than ever before. Hearing aids provide the ears and brain with the information necessary to make the user feel confident in communication. By making communication easier, treating hearing loss improves relationships, enriches social engagement, and improves overall health. 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. We look forward to helping you prioritize your hearing health and wellness.

Kenneth H. Wood, BC-HIS

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