The wrong hearing aid can make things worseAs the population of senior citizens increases, more people are suffering from senile hearing difficulties. About 25 to 40 percent of those age 65 to 75, and 38 to 70 percent of those who are older than 75 years old experience a degeneration of their auditory abilities. As senior citizens make up over 9 percent of the whole population in Korea, that means perhaps more than 1.7 million people are hard of hearing.
Usually, one starts losing his or her hearing in the 30s. But the symptoms slowly appear only in the 40s or as late as the 60s. The process starts at a younger age for men, and their speed of degeneration is also twice as fast.
No clear reason for senile hearing loss has been found yet. It is only known that a compound of genetic and environmental factors makes acoustic nerves age, so that it gets difficult to hear high frequency sounds, which are usually higher than 2,000 Hertz. Most conversations range from 500 to 2,000 Hertz.
“In the incipient stage, there is no problem in the pitch extent of usual conversation,” said Park Kee-hyun, an ear, nose and throat doctor at Ajou University Medical Center. “But as time goes by, one finds it more and more difficult to discern consonants in a higher frequency range.” At this stage, it becomes hard to discern high-pitched sounds: s, ch, p, t and k. If it worsens, it’s hard to discern speech from other noises so that normal communication is impossible in noisy places.
“If a senior citizen says he hears a ringing in the ears, or speaks louder than he used to, or asks the same question repeatedly, or answers irrelevantly, he should see a doctor,” Dr. Park said.
A degenerated hearing ability can hurt one’s social life and family relations. One could become depressed, and get irritated more easily as senile hearing loss often accompanies a buzzing in the ears, which often results in indigestion, a faster pulse, high blood pressure and fatigue.
That’s why it’s important to detect senile hearing difficulties as early as possible, so that hearing aids can be acquired early on. Hearing aids not only improves auditory capacity but also limit ringing symptoms.
One of the problems is that most Koreans usually don’t do anything to try to cure hearing difficulties, considering it a natural part of aging, as a result making the situation more serious. Even after they are diagnosed with hearing problems, a great number of patients do not get appropriate medical treatment, such as hearing aids.
“Only 18 percent of senior citizens whose auditory ability has degenerated wear hearing aids,” Dr. Park said.
So what kind of hearing aid to buy? Chung Jong-woo, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the Asan Medical Center, said patients and their families should ditch the idea that “the more expensive, the better,” or “it has to be comfortable.”
“Wearing the wrong kind of hearing aid could wind up further hurting one’s auditory ability,” Dr. Chung warned.
Though most patients only have problems with high frequency sounds, many of them buy hearing aids that amplify sounds in all ranges of frequencies ― meaning everything is louder, and nothing is clearer. Dr. Chung urged patients to consult with their doctors before buying hearing aids.
In order to prevent hearing damage, people must take care of their ears from a young age. Avoid noisy places and stress. Geriatric diseases or medical problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, can also affect the blood vessels of the ears, leading to damage.
Pharmacotherapy ― drug treatments ― can damage auditory nerves. If you’re taking antibiotic injections or pyrine-system liquid medication and start losing your hearing or hearing a buzzing sound, stop taking the medicine and see a doctor. Those aged 55 or older should make sure to have their ears examined once a year.
Do you have these hearing problems?
1. It’s difficult to talk over the phone.
2. It’s hard to talk in noisy places.
3. I have to have things repeated in conversations.
4. I have to listen carefully to understand what others say.
5. People say I mutter.
6. I react inappropriately due to misunderstandings.
7. It’s particularly difficult to hear and understand women and young children.
8. People tell me I set the sound too high on speakers.
9. I often hear a buzzing or ringing sound in my ears.
10. Sounds I thought were too loud others thought were O.K.
If you agreed with three or more of these statements, see a doctor.
Source: Korean Society of Audiology
by Hwang Se-hee