FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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  • Can certain medications cause hearing loss?
  • What impact can hearing loss have on an older person’s life?
  • What types of hearing loss are most common in older adults?
  • How common is hearing loss?
Can certain medications cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss can result from taking certain medications. “Ototoxic” medications damage the inner ear, sometimes permanently. Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication.

What impact can hearing loss have on an older person’s life?

People with hearing loss have trouble fully participating in everyday life. They may mistake words in a conversation, miss directions or warnings, or leave a ringing doorbell unanswered. Older people who can’t hear well may become depressed or withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said.

They may become suspicious of relatives or friends who they believe “mumble” or “don’t speak up” on purpose. Hearing loss isolates older people and may even put them in harm’s way if they are unable to respond to warnings or hear sounds of impending danger.

Sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they don’t hear well.

What types of hearing loss are most common in older adults?

Presbycusis is common in older adults. Presbycusis comes on gradually as a person ages and mostly affects people over 50. Doctors do not know why presbycusis happens, but it seems to run in families. Presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying. This type of hearing loss involves damage to the inner ear and is permanent.

Tinnitus, also common in older people, is the ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound in the ears frequently caused by presbycusis, exposure to loud noise or certain medications. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss. It also can be a sign of other important health problems, too, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels. Tinnitus may come and go, or stop altogether.

How common is hearing loss?

Approximately 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults say that they have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is a common condition in older adults. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss.

Beth S. Levine M.S., CCC-A, F-AAA owner and licensed audiologist, is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. She is licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Audiology, and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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