By Gladeen Allred, Ed.D., Aging Advocate

Most hearing loss in older adults is largely due to aging and is usually not reversible.  But some hearing problems are correctable.  A person who becomes aware of hearing loss should consult a hearing specialist or a health care provider to decide how to proceed.

Problems That Can Be Corrected

One of the major causes of hearing loss is a build up of ear wax.  As people grow older the wax becomes drier and harder for the ear to expel.  Also, the ear canal tends to narrow with age, so that even a small amount of wax can affect hearing.  Another fixable problem is fluid in the middle ear from colds or sinus infections.  These usually disappear in several weeks.  If not, a physician can help rule out underlying causes, such as allergies. This can occur in children, as well. Conductive hearing loss (when sound is not sent to the outer ear canal) can be corrected surgically.   Some over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, when taken for long periods, have been associated with hearing loss or tinnitus. Changing to other pain relievers can help correct this. However, if taken too long in high doses, it can result in permanent hearing loss.

Communication Strategies

Communication is a two-way street. One barrier to communication for people who are hearing- impaired is lack of consideration by others.  The following tips can help improve communication:

  1. Get the attention of the person before speaking.  For example, tapping the person on the shoulder can cue the listener that someone is going to speak to them.
  2. Walk before talking.  Do not talk from another room. Be in the same room and face the listener.  This allows for visual cues, so visual and auditory signs are integrated. Face the hearing-impaired person directly rather than speaking from above or behind.
  3. Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly but naturally, without shouting or exaggerated mouth movements. 
  4. Rephrase when the listener misunderstands.  Instead of repeating the message, change the word order, or use a different vocabulary.
  5. Say the person’s name before speaking.
  6. The listener can use adaptive strategies, such as asking people to repeat what was said and using keywords.  Instead of a non-specific “what”, say, for example, “What did you say about dinner?”

Hearing Loss In Children   

Children may also experience hearing loss.  While most loss is identified at birth, some is diagnosed later when speech and learning skills are not progressing. Hearing impairment affects a child’s development of speech and language skills.  When the child has difficulty hearing, the area of the brain used for communication may not develop appropriately.  This makes understanding and talking difficult. When hearing loss is identified early and managed appropriately, the child can become an effective communicator.  Parents or caregivers need to work with hearing professionals.

Local Professionals

There are local professionals who can help assess and treat hearing loss.  In addition to Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists, there are audiologists at the Oklahoma State University’s Speech, Language and Hearing clinic (405-744-6021),  and at Integrity Audiology and Hearing Clinic, 129 West 7th, Stillwater, (405-372-2657). Stillwater Noon Lions work with Integrity Audiology Clinic to provide free hearing screening for children.

About Aging Advocates

Aging Advocates, a group of area businesses and agencies in the Payne County area meet monthly to advocate for older adults. From their experiences, they innovate ideas and raise awareness of older adult issues. It is important to look at the developing needs of the aging population and support, educate, and identify services valuable to a life fully lived.