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Managing age-related hearing loss


Who would have thought that a hearing problem could cause family relationships to be strained? That was the case for 67-year-old John Wee (not his real name) and his son. 

Conversations became fraught with misunderstanding – the father, who’s been suffering hearing loss for over six years, would often mishear and require constant repetition when his son asked him questions or shared stories. They became frustrated with each other, leading to feelings of hurt and being disconnected.

It was only in January that Mr Wee’s son convinced him to seek professional help. His diagnosis: 55 to 60 per cent (severe) permanent hearing loss in both ears. Yet, he refused to wear a hearing aid due to fears of being ridiculed.

However, with encouragement from his peers, he went for a second appointment and now sports a small, discreet and lightweight device on each ear. Mr Wee says he sometimes forgets that he is wearing them.

Today, Mr Wee confidently participates in conversations with renewed enthusiasm. The father-son relationship is also stronger, as they get to communicate clearer and better.

Similar to Mr Wee’s experience, a study conducted in 20171 revealed that about 88 per cent of Singaporeans aged 60 and above are affected by age-related hearing loss.

Ms Kausellya Subramaniam, Mr Wee’s audiologist at 20dB Digisound, notes that this condition often begins in one’s early 40s and may progressively deteriorate over time if left untreated.

 

A common ageing concern

She adds: “As one ages, the sensory receptors in the inner ear tend to weaken and become more susceptible to deterioration or degeneration.

“Also, side effects of certain medications elderly people take to treat multiple diseases can lead to progressive hearing loss, and medical illnesses, such as diabetes, damage blood vessels and nerves, which worsen the condition.”

There is also a correlation between hearing loss and significant conditions such as dementia in older adults, she says, citing a study in the National Library of Medicine.

More than 80 per cent of 20dB Digisound’s older patients are brought in by their children who suspect hearing loss, and more than 70 per cent of her patients have age-related hearing loss.

Ms Subramaniam advises patients like Mr Wee to go for a hearing test if there are indications of hearing loss.

“The hearing test is painless and usually lasts around 10 to 15 minutes,” she adds.

Patients at 20dB Digisound undergo comprehensive tests to diagnose the condition of their outer, middle and inner ears. This helps to identify and rule out temporary causes of hearing loss such as impacted ear wax or treatable infections.

If the patient has moderate to profound hearing loss, Ms Subramaniam recommends they wear a hearing aid.

In addition to discreet and lightweight devices, elderly parents who may have reduced dexterity can opt for behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids.

“BTE hearing aids are bigger and paired with earmoulds,” she advises. “They are customised to fit the patient’s ear canal shape and size, so the insertion and removal would be easier too.”

 
RECOGNISING THE SIGNS

Your parent could be experiencing hearing loss if they:

  • Frequently ask others to repeat themselves or request them to speak loudly.
  • Have difficulty following conversations or often misinterpret words.
  • Rely heavily on lip reading or facial cues. To assess this, cover your mouth or maintain a neutral facial expression during interactions, or transition between topics without providing cues to see if they can follow.

 

LEVELS OF HEARING LOSS:

MILD (10 TO 15 PER CENT):

  • Hears speech clearly in quiet environments, but might face slight difficulties in noisier surroundings.

MODERATE (20 TO 45 PER CENT):

  • Has difficulties understanding speech in both quiet and noisy environments as they might misinterpret words.

SEVERE (50 TO 75 PER CENT):

  • Only picks up environmental sounds, so one needs to raise their voice to communicate with them.

PROFOUND (>80 PER CENT):

  • Only picks up very loud environmental sounds, so one must shout into their better ear to communicate.

 

BOOK A FREE HEARING TEST

Show your love this Parents’ Day by giving your folks the gift of better hearing. Sign up now to schedule a free hearing test at 20dB Digisound.

You’ll be able to get rebates of up to $500, as well as a complimentary gift in-store when you purchase a hearing aid. 

Promotion is valid till June 30, 2024. Terms and conditions apply.

*This article is officially published on The Sunday Times newspaper (12 May 2024). 

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