As you and your loved ones age, you may notice difficulties related to balance or various types of hearing disorders, which are common later in life. These may stem from problems with the bones or nerves in and attached to the ear, and they can make communication, among other things, more challenging for caretakers and their loved ones.
Depending on the hearing disorder, you may want to bring your loved one to see an audiologist, which the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) defines as "a professional who diagnoses and treats hearing and balance problems ... for individuals from birth through adulthood." You may consider speaking with an audiologist if your loved one develops any of these common hearing disorders.
The Main Types of Hearing Disorders
Among the most common types of hearing disorders your loved one may experience are those involving hearing loss, as outlined by the American Hearing Research Foundation. Hearing loss can happen in three ways, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems involving the ear canal, ear drum, or middle ear and its small bones (malleus, incus, and stapes). Problems could include malformation of these structures, allergies, a perforated eardrum, or otosclerosis, a genetic disorder in which a bony growth forms around the stapes and prevents the bone from vibrating when sound stimulates it.
Sensorineural hearing loss, also known as nerve-related hearing loss, tends to occur due to problems involving the inner ear or auditory nerve. These problems can include:
- Physical trauma, such as a head injury
- Barotrauma caused by abrupt changes in air pressure, such as during scuba diving or air travel
- Acoustic trauma, or excessively loud noise
- A virus or disease that causes sudden loss of hearing
- Bilateral progressive hearing loss, also known as autoimmune inner ear disease, where the body's immune system misdirects its defenses against the inner ear structures
- Malformation of the inner ear
- Meniere's disease, which can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or vertigo (dizziness that causes a sensation of spinning)
Finally, mixed hearing loss is a diagnosis reserved for any combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This could signal damage to the outer or middle ear and the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Visiting an Audiologist
You may begin noticing your loved one's hearing difficulties interfering with his or her ability to communicate, particularly on the phone, in group gatherings, while watching TV, while talking to small children, or while at the store, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Some hearing loss is common as loved ones age, but certain conditions may be medically treatable. An audiologist may offer certain types of audiologic care or treatment, such as hearing aids or aural rehabilitation, according to the ADA. The audiologist can fit your loved one with the right hearing aids to match his or her specific needs, some of which may use specialized computer or online programs. Expect to schedule a few follow-up appointments with the audiologist to fine-tune the programming and ensure that your loved one's hearing improves over time.
Hearing difficulties can make life more challenging -- and frustrating -- for your loved one, especially in regard to his or her ability to communicate with you and others. If this is the case, an audiologist may be able to provide the best type of care and treatment devices, so don't hesitate to make an appointment.