Age-Related Hearing Loss: What (Not) To Do When Dad Can’t Hear You

So everyone knows that aging and hearing loss go together. What not everyone knows is, what to do and how to deal with it. Or, perhaps even more importantly: What not to do, and how not to deal with it.

Do not procrastinate.

No one likes to tell their parent or older loved one that there’s something wrong. If you suspect a life-threatening situation like CVI or cancer, then you’ve got no choice. So when it comes to something like age-related hearing loss, it’s tempting to kick the can down the road and keep the peace.

And while that’s totally understandable, there are three reasons why it’s not a good move:

  1. Your brain needs sound input in order to keep processing sounds. The part of the brain that processes the sounds is called the auditory cortex. The way it works is that the ear and the auditory nerve receive sounds and send them on to the brain. Then the brain processes them. That’s how we hear – and interpret – sounds. If that auditory cortex doesn’t get enough input, it starts losing its ability to do its job.
  2. Loss of hearing can accelerate cognitive decline. When adults suffer from age-related hearing loss, they usually see a decline in their cognitive abilities too. It’s also been linked to higher risk of dementia.
  3. Hearing loss has a negative social impact. If people have to repeat themselves over and over in conversation with someone, they’ll eventually get tired of talking to that person. Conversely, someone who knows they’re going to have to ask others to repeat themselves over and over will withdraw from social contact, too.

Don’t let the issue slide because your loved one says they can hear just fine. can hear just fine, even if other family members agree.

Why? Because your loved one might be right that they can hear – but wrong that they can hear clearly. The reason this happens is that age-related hearing loss usually affects higher-frequency sounds. It also tends to distort sound, not muffle it. Which means that Mom might hear your brother’s baritone voice pretty well, so Mom – and bro – say she hears fine. And that your soprano wife is just imagining things when she says Mom doesn’t understand half of what she says.

Oh, and by the way? This is why it doesn’t help to shout at older people who can’t hear well. All they hear when you do that is…distorted shouting.

Don’t assume that age-related hearing loss is something primary physicians always figure out.

When doctors speak to patients, it’s usually in a pretty optimal setting for hearing: quiet room, no ambient noise, no distractions. It’s also usually for a short amount of time. So an occasional “what” or “could you repeat that” from an elderly patient isn’t going to raise red flags.

Beyond that, traditional Medicare doesn’t cover routine audiology screening. Some plans, however, do cover it if the primary physician orders it in relation to a larger medical problem. In any case, if you think your loved one’s hearing is deteriorating, let their primary doctor know just like you would for any other condition you suspected.

So if it seems like Dad can’t hear you, remember: don’t push it off, don’t take his word for it, and don’t assume you can leave it up to his primary care physician. He’ll thank you for it.