Reprinted from the February issue of South Shore Senior News.
By Diana DiGiorgi
Hard of hearing (HOH) refers to people who still have some useful hearing and can understand spoken language, in some situations, with or without amplification. Most HOH people can use the telephone, hearing aids and other assistive devices. The degree of hearing loss can vary, from mild to profound. Deaf people, on the other hand, have little or no hearing. They may use sign language or lip reading, and hearing aids may be used for both environmental awareness and to help make speech understandable. People who use spoken English to communicate are called “oral deaf.” Many individuals who are deaf lost their hearing before they learned to speak, and they view hearing loss, not as a medical condition that needs to be corrected, but as a cultural distinction.
People who are “late-deafened” are those who lost all or most of their hearing during or after their teen years, either suddenly or progressively. Most need sign language or lip reading to understand conversation, and cannot use the telephone. In many cases, doctors cannot definitively determine what causes deafness later in life. Some common causes include: exposure to loud noise, aging, meningitis, accidents, trauma, virus, Meniere’s disease, and tumors of the acoustic nerve. If you experience a sudden drop in hearing, unexpected dizziness, drainage from your ear, or significant pain in your ear or head, see a doctor as quickly as possible.
Acquired deafness is a traumatic loss, especially for people who lose their hearing suddenly. People who are born deaf never feel this overwhelming sense of loss, because they never experienced hearing. But for anyone who becomes deaf later in life, the sense of loss can be devastating and often report a feeling of isolation and loneliness. They may go through a grieving process that lasts months or even years. It is important to note that deafness does not mean that your recreational or social life has to stop. You can still do many of the same things you used to do, just differently.
There are some special concerns for older adults. The incidence of hearing loss increases dramatically with age. One third of all people over the age of 60 and 50% of people over 80 have some form of hearing loss. Hearing impairment is common and can seriously affect their safety, quality of life, and ability to live independently. Some seniors are not comfortable with new technologies like assistive listening devices or close captioned television and may lack the manual dexterity to manipulate the small controls on hearing aids and other devices. Seniors may be anxious about being able to remain living at home, and may be unaware of safety alerting devices and other assistive technology.
The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing can be used as a central point of contact for seniors and their caregivers. Their website is www.mass.gov/mcdhh. Much of the information in this article is taken from The Commission’s publication, The Savvy Consumer’s Guide to Hearing Loss. This publication lists organizations that offer supportive services, medical help, financial assistance and benefits programs, communications options, assistive technologies, and real life coping skills. To receive a copy of this book, call 1-800-882-1155, or 617-740-1700 (TTY).