Estimates of hearing loss do vary, although research shows that some 40–50% of adults over the age of 65 years have a hearing impairment, with this rising to 83% for those over the age of 70 years . This makes hearing loss the third most prevalent chronic medical condition among older adults, after arthritis and hypertension.
Signs you may have a hearing loss
- You can hear, but you can’t understand. Among the first sounds that “disappear” are high-pitched sounds like women’s and children’s voices. Also, you mistake similar high-pitched sounds, such as “fifty” and “sixty.”
- You find yourself complaining that some people mumble or slur their words.
- You have difficulty understanding what’s being said unless you are facing the speaker.
- You are continually asking certain people to repeat words or phrases, though they feel they are speaking loud enough.
- You prefer the TV or radio louder than others do.
- You have difficulty understanding conversation within a group of people.
- You avoid group meetings, social occasions, public facilities or family gatherings where listening may be difficult.
- You have trouble hearing at the movies, concert halls, houses of worship or other public gatherings — especially where sound sources are at a distance from the listener.
- You experience ringing, hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring or even chirping noises in your ears.
To others your hearing loss is obvious. For you it may take a bit longer!
Research has shown that it takes up to seven years for a person to do something about their hearing after first noticing the problem. There is a journey we go through when we notice we may not be hearing all the conversations.
Firstly, we have denial. Many people initially deny they are having trouble hearing and could wait years before taking action. They often blame the hearing loss on others who mumble or don’t speak clearly.
The next stage is withdrawal. It becomes difficult to participate in social environments or group conversations, particularly in noisy environments. It seems an easier choice is to just not join in. If you stay in this stage the withdrawal can lead to bigger issues, such as depression and anxiety.
We then begin to compromise. You begin to acknowledge that you may have a hearing loss but are not quite ready to accept that it is to the point where you need hearing aids.
Finally we arrive at acceptance. You recognise that your hearing loss is affecting your quality of life. You miss enjoying the company of your friends and family and decide to seek out professional help. Yay!
How untreated hearing loss can impact your life
If you think hearing loss is inconsequential, you should know that studies have linked untreated hearing loss to significant issues such as:
- Diminished psychological and overall health
- Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
- Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
- Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
- Social rejection and loneliness
- Fatigue, tension, stress, and depression
- Irritability, negativism, and anger
- Reduced job performance and earning power
The good news is that we can do something about your hearing loss to reduce these effects!
Did you know that we hear with our brains?
As we get older we develop an age related hearing loss, called presbycusis. This hearing loss often starts at the higher frequencies, which are the important sounds for understanding speech. This means that you may notice that you are hearing conversations but not understanding what the person is saying. You may also report more difficulty when there is background noise.
The brain works in a way that if you don’t use it then you lose it. So if you are not stimulating the hearing part of the brain then your ability to understand speech can get worse. Therefore, it is important to give your brain this information. Hearing aids can provide this information. When we have not heard for a while, the brain is not used to hearing the frequencies where you have a hearing loss. Hearing aids provide these sounds you have been missing and then your brain then needs to figure out how to process these sounds. It has to be re-trained to know what to do with the sounds it has not heard for a long time. Therefore, the earlier you do something about your hearing the better you will do.
Some frequently asked questions
- What happens when I have a hearing test?
At this appointment, the audiologist will have a chat with you to understand your concerns and gain some history from you about your ears and hearing. They will then look in your ears to ensure they look healthy and clear of wax. You will then go into a sound booth and complete a hearing test, including testing using speech sounds. Immittance testing will take place to understand how the middle part of your ear is functioning. The audiologist will go through all the results with you at this appointment and will discuss appropriate management with you. This may include referrals, discussion on hearing aids according to your hearing needs and budget.
- How much do hearing aids cost and are there funding options available?
There are a huge range of hearing aids on the market and therefore it is hard to give an exact price. It also varies between clinics. The audiologist will be able to give you a quote once they know what your needs are, what your hearing levels are like and what kind of environments you are in. There are some funding options available which are discussed below.
ENABLE universal hearing aid subsidy: The Ministry of Health’s Hearing Aid Subsidy Scheme provides $511.11 (incl. GST) per hearing aid to adults over the age of 16 years. You will need to be a NZ resident living in NZ and have a permanent hearing loss.
Click here to find out more
ENABLE funding: You may be eligible for funding of hearing aids if you meet certain criteria. This includes:
- Significant hearing loss from childhood
- Dual disability, such as blindness and hearing loss or intellectual or physical disability and hearing loss
- Hold a community services card, have a moderate sensorineural hearing loss and meet one of the other criteria such as working more than 30 hours a week, studying full time, volunteer work for more than 20 hours a week or caring for a dependent person
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ACC: They are able to assist if the hearing loss is a result of any of the following:
- Exposure to a noisy work environment causing hearing loss
- Exposure to a sudden, extremely loud noise causing hearing loss
- Sudden accident causing hearing loss
ACC doesn’t cover congenital hearing loss, age-related or illness-related hearing loss. To apply for ACC funding, contact your general practitioner who can initiate a claim for you. You will then be sent for a hearing assessment at a clinic who is accredited with ACC. Once you have had your hearing assessed, you will be sent to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, who will determine if your hearing loss was due to any of the above. You will then find out if you have been approved or not and how much they will contribute towards your hearing aids. Your accredited audiologist is able to help discuss this further with you and is able to assist with ACC claims.
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Veteran Affairs (War Pensions): Hearing aids and other hearing assistance devices such as amplified telephones are available to veterans who have a hearing disability as a result of their military service. To claim this funding you must complete a War Pensions Disability Application Form which is available from the War Pensions Services (click here). The war pension funding covers the following:
- Audiologist fees
- The cost of the hearing aids (up to a certain limit)
- Cost of repairs
- A battery allowance
- Replacement aids
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WINZ (Work and Income Support): A WINZ subsidy is now available to anyone. If the clinic is accredited with WINZ they are able to give you a quote to take to WINZ to discuss your options.
Click here to learn more
Hearing aid bank: The New Zealand Audiology Society and the Wellington Hearing Association jointly administer a hearing bank for those people who are unable to afford hearing aids and are ineligible for other funding. Wanita will be able to help you access this funding should you require it. It does require access to your financial information.
Take a look at Kiwi Hearing’s listing here on Eldernet!
References: Cruickshanks K. J., Wiley T. L., Tweed T. S., Klein B. E., Klein R., Mares-Perlman J. A., et al. . (1998). Prevalence of hearing loss in older adults in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin: the epidemiology of hearing loss study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 148, 879–886. 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009713