WITH recent studies suggesting a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, people aged over 50 are being urged to have their hearing checked.
The annual Hearing Awareness Week aims to raise community awareness of hearing impairment and this year’s event from March 3-9 reminds “hearing is precious and fragile.”
Deafness Forum of Australia chief executive Steve Williamson said the prevalence of hearing loss, often referred to as the hidden or invisible disability, increased with age.
“Seventy-three per cent of Australians aged over 70 have a mild to severe hearing loss and as many as 85 per cent of people in ‘nursing homes’ are typically hearing impaired,” he said.
Mr Williamson said hearing loss was often a gradual process and although impairment was invisible, there were behavioural indicators.
“Some of the early warning signs are you can hear but not understand, you find it hard to hear in noisy situations or groups of people, you think people mumble, you need to turn the TV up louder than others or you don’t always hear the doorbell or the phone,” he said.
While hearing loss could not always be prevented in older Australians, it could be managed effectively through a variety of means including hearing devices.
However, people needed motivation to seek and then persevere in the use of aids.
“It is believed that one in three older people who need hearing aids have them and that only about a quarter of those who need an aid use one,” Mr Williamson said.
“Many older people who would benefit from hearing aids wait six to 10 years before seeking them.
“Gentle encouragement by carers can help. Also, the willingness of carers to assist hearing impaired people in managing their hearing aids is critical for older people who quite commonly have reduced finger and arm dexterity or reduced vision.”
There were alternatives for people reluctant to get hearing aids or unlikely to persevere with them.
“They may be encouraged to use an ‘assistive listening device’ if only to watch TV, listen to the radio or music and to use a suitable phone to keep in touch with family and friends,” Mr Williamson said.
Untreated hearing loss could have serious consequences.
“Unaddressed hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline and evidence suggests that it can contribute to social isolation, loss of autonomy, depression and dementia, particularly in older adults,” he said.
“A lack of recognition and effective management of hearing loss and balance disorders in aged care services is a concern. “There is a need to foster the independence and wellbeing of deaf and hard of hearing older Australians.”
Early identification was the key to effective rehabilitation and adults over 50 years should get their hearing checked from time to time to ensure hearing loss was detected at the earliest.