Healthy Aging

healthy aging

Hearing and Aging

Healthy aging does not mean perfect health or remaining as one was in the earlier years.  No, quite to the contrary, healthy aging involves an number of changes that cannot be prevented, and are expected as one gets up in age.  One of the body’s many systems affected by aging is the sense of hearing.  It is normal as one ages to not hear as well as one did when young.  Particularly prone to loss are high pitched sounds and this sometimes translates to the voices of women and children (perhaps a blessing for some men.) 

Types of Hearing Impairment

There are generally two types of hearing change that are normal in aging.  One is the gradual loss of hearing that is called Presbycusis.  This tends to run in families and if one’s parents lost hearing as they aged it is possible that you will too.  It affects both ears and the most common sign of it is that one does not hear the phone ring.  Other signs are that in conversation, you frequently ask the person you are talking with to repeat or speak louder.  Another common form of impairment is Tinnitus, a ringing in the ear or a dull roar like the ocean or even the background sound machines that one can purchase.  Tinnitus can also be a sign of some illnesses so it should be reported to a physician if it occurs to you. 

Some easily treatable causes of loss of hearing are wax build up in the ear canal or a punctured ear drum.  Viruses and bacteria can also cause hearing problems as can brain tumors.  If there is loss of hearing one needs to be evaluated by one’s physician to be certain that there is nothing causing it that can be treated.  If there is sudden loss of hearing this is a medical emergency and needs to be dealt with as such. 


Losing normal hearing has many consequences.  It can make socializing a lot less fun if you cannot hear what is being said.  It can cause family members to fret because they become frustrated in trying to communicate.  They may even think that you are suffering from some form of dementia since you are not your old self.  If alarms are not heard such as a smoke detector – results could be devastating. 

Devices to Enhance Hearing

Hearing aids are improved and can be used very effectively to address many forms and degrees of hearing loss.  There are also other devices for the phone and TV that can be used so that these sources of sound can be better heard.  Likewise, doorbells, alarm clocks and smoke detectors can be armed with hearing enhanced devices so that the hearing impaired can hear them should they go off.

Behavior When One Is Losing Hearing

The most important thing to do is be sure that those with whom you are interacting know that you have trouble with your hearing.  Ask people to look at you when talking and to speak a little louder than normal (not shout) and to use facial expressions and hand gestures.  Do not hesitate to ask them to repeat what was said.

When talking to someone that you know has lost their normal hearing be patient, be supportive and talk slowly, facing the individual.  Do not try to carry on a conversation in a very loud setting such as many of the Charleston restaurants.  Never cover your mouth since lip reading and gesture reading are aids that the hearing impaired rely on for communication. 

Bottom Line

It is normal for people to lose some of their hearing as they age just as they lose other functions of an earlier age.  It is important to rule out medical, treatable causes of hearing loss and then when necessary get the appropriate device aids.  Your physician can assist you in dealing with this common and normal part of aging.

Healthy Aging

Health Information Library: Hearing Loss

Health Information Library: Hearing Aids

Podcast: Hearing Loss - Hearing Aid Technology

Video: Hearing Loss

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