Are Older Adults Hard of Hearing? By: Gabrielle Brown

The older adult population is continuously growing as people are living longer. With this comes social, political, and economic challenges. These challenges bring about many stereotypes, specifically that older adults are hard of hearing. Hearing loss is a common issue for a majority of older individuals. Often times, this disorder leads to financial obligations for the older individual due to hearing aids and rehabilitation. This common stereotype is expressed over several cultures and is known to inhibit their memory and quality of life.

Hearing loss is detrimental to an individual’s mental and physical health. As the stereotype prevails, age-related hearing loss causes communication difficulties for people between ages 60 to 80 (Cherko, 2016). Through conducted experiments and longitudinal observations, the scientist studied individuals over the age of 60 and found the effects of auditory deprivation on older adults as well as the effects it has on quality of life and cognition. Ranked as the third most problematic disability, hearing loss is a disorder that has an immense affect on cognition and quality of life. There are many solutions toward fixing one’s hearing loss. Some examples include; hearing rehabilitation programs, cochlear implants and hearing aids. These treatment options are demonstrating positive effects as they are improving communicative ability as well as consequently enhancing overall quality of life (Cherko, 2016). Social interaction appears to be most effected by age-related hearing loss as one-on-one conversation and group conversation are heavily impacted. Individuals with both severe and mild to moderate hearing loss appear to have a negative effect on emotional, social and communication function (Cherko, 2016). While loss of hearing is a heavy burden on social interaction, it also influences physical and mental wellbeing as well. This study provides evidence that confirms age-related hearing loss, which supports the stereotype that older adults are in fact hard of hearing.

Similar to the previous study, this experiment provides evidence that verifies the stereotype on age-related hearing loss. The scientist conducted a longitudinal study where 546 individuals aged 70 years or older were observed to determine their difference in hearing over time. This study showed that increased exposure to stereotypes and negative attitudes toward aging are contributing to poorer health and worse cognitive and physical function in older adults (Levy, Slade & Gill, 2007). Cultures that have positive perceptions on older individuals tend to see less hearing loss with old age (Levy et al., 2007). Individuals who carry negative images of hearing loss tend to discover that their own hearing is impaired, and subsequently target themselves with these images, which is known as “self-stigmatization” (Levy et al., 2007). Negativity is considered a huge primary factor that contributes to hearing loss. This scientist found that through extensive observation, the individuals that had more negative age stereotypes, performed worse on screened hearing (Levy et al., 2007). Three pathways that could influence hearing in old age were examined throughout this observation. The first pathway is considered the social pathway. This would function directly through age stereotypes producing specific expectations about growing old, such as hearing loss. Because growing older can be intimidating to some individuals, these expectations may contribute to feelings of confusion and disorientation, which may reinforce those negative expectations (Levy et al., 2007).  Cognition is the second pathway that may contribute to reduced hearing. A sequence of studies discovered that negative age stereotypes from other individuals can heavily impact older adults’ memory performance, and overall cognition (Levy et al., 2007).  The third pathway of age stereotype operation is physiological. Feelings of stress and anxiety arise when older adults are exposed to negative stereotypes regarding growing older, consequently negatively affecting hearing (Levy et al., 2007). This was the first study to ever demonstrate that older adults’ age stereotypes are capable of predicting their sensory perception. This study provided accredited evidence throughout, which supports the stereotype regarding age-related hearing loss.

Not only does age-related hearing loss impact the individual, it impacts the caregivers as well. In a cross-sectional study with a correlative design made in a French preventive center, an individual with age-related hearing loss (ARHL) and their caregiver were both observed. The sample selection included individuals above age 55, having bilateral (conductive and/or sensorineural) ARHL, and having a degree of hearing loss ranging from mild to to reasonably severe according to Clark’s classification. The caregiver had to be considered either a partner, child, or someone relatively close to the individual. Questionnaires determined data such as physical health, psychological health, and social relationships; all of which determine an individual’s quality of life. Coping strategies were measured using the Brief Coping Orientation Quality of Life questionnaire listing several different coping strategies. Lastly, anxiety and mood were assessed using visual analog scales, ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest level of anxiety. The study indicated that individuals with ARHL was affected on the social element. It showed the consequences of hearing impairment and discovered that it often produces a reduced ability to communicate, damages physical and social capabilities, and contributes to cognitive deficits, mood disturbances, and stigmatization (Lazzarotto, Baumstarck, Londou, Hamidou, Aghababian, Leroy & Auqier, 2016). However, older adults with reduced hearing aren’t the only ones impacted, the caregivers are as well. This study confirms that the social dimension of quality of life of the individual’s closest caregiver is significantly impacted. Spending copious amounts of time with an ARHL individual can be challenging, time demanding, and hindering. Because individuals with reduced hearing struggle in large groups or social events, they are forced to rely on the caregiver. If the caregiver happens to be the ARHL individual’s partner, the caregiver tends to feel ripped of their independence and freedom (Lazzarotto et al., 2016). Individuals that use active coping strategies, such as problem solving and positive thinking, reported higher quality of life scores (Lazzarotto, 2016). Developing a better sense of understanding for the patient-relative dyad and how relatives support and cope during demanding situations may support the development of couple-focused interventions (Lazzarotto, 2016). By emphasizing the quality of life of individuals with this hearing impairment, their caregivers preferred coping strategies, and results from the cross-sectional study, all evidence in this study that supports the stereotype on age-related hearing loss.

A recent experiment conducted a longitudinal study focusing on answering why older adults delay in seeking help for hearing loss. The scientist studied several different stages that a person with a hearing impairment may experience: preceding hearing aid fitting, the time between the fitting, and the interval following the hearing aid fitting. Although hearing loss is high in older adults, hearing aid use is still relatively low. A small proportion of of adults with age-related hearing loss actually seek help for their problem and commit to using hearing aids (Clements, 2015). Hearing loss can lead to extreme consequences such as, social isolation, depression, anxiety, loneliness and stress in relationships. The scientist believes that when an individual feels self-conscious, the individual will most likely consider that trait as a possible threat to their social identity (Clements, 2015). Because of developed insecurities, the individual will attempt to deny the stigma. People presented with age-related hearing loss are often seen as socially incompetent with slow cognitive ability, perceiving them as unexciting and poor communication partners, which are a few reasons why many older adults are against receiving a hearing aid (Clements, 2015). Another aspect to consider is the stigma of the appearance of the hearing aid.  The phrase ‘I have a hearing aid’ screams older adult and many people aren’t willing to accept their age.  Many individuals feel it is necessary to ‘play down’ a stereotype and compare their own situation to others who may look as though they are in a more difficult situation (Clements, 2015).  One study showed that an an individual’s decision to seek help for hearing loss is heavily influenced by the acceptance and encouragement of their family, friends, and doctor. Significant evidence proposes that the older adults’ decision process in seeking help for their hearing loss is profoundly influenced by attitudes and opinions of others (Clements, 2015). The biggest factor that influences when an individual seeks helps for their hearing impairment is the stigma associated with hearing loss. Many older adults fear that they will look ‘old’ or ‘stupid’, which contributes to whether or not they’ll seek help. Another solution is to have the audiologist take on more of a counsellor and rehabilitator role rather than just a prescriber, which will make the individual feel more comfortable and aware of the benefits of receiving a hearing aid (Clements, 2015). It is clear from this article that hearing impairment is still an extremely emotional and offensive topic to older adults. This study provides reliable yet information regarding individuals with age-related hearing loss, which supports this stereotype about aging.

Society has trained us not to identify wisdom and experience but weakness and ugliness. It’s difficult for many older adults to accept their maturation, development, and age. It’s challenging for humans to accept the inevitability of ageing as we are all frightened of becoming weak and dependent, and of losing our mobility and ability to hear. Age-related hearing loss is a common issue for the majority of the population. If we begin to accept the unavoidable, such as the stereotypes about aging, we will eventually start to celebrate age and approach it as a new stage of life rather than a slow stride towards the end of it.

 

References

Cherko, M., Hickson, L., & Bhutta, M. (2016). Auditory deprivation and health in the elderly.                                  Maturitas, 88, 52-57. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.03.008

 

Clements, C. (2015). Why do Older Adults Delay in Seeking Help for Hearing loss. Journal                          of Otolaryngology-ENT Research, 3(4). doi:10.15406/joentr.2015.03.00070

 

Lazzarotto, S., Baumstarck, K., Loundou, A., Hamidou, Z., Aghababian, V., Leroy, T., & Auquier,              P. (november 7, 2016). Age-related hearing loss in individuals and their caregivers:          effects of coping on the quality of life among the dyads. Patient Preference and        Adherence, Volume 10, 2279-2287. doi:10.2147/ppa.s112750

 

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., & Gill, T. M. (2006). Hearing Decline Predicted by Elders’ Stereotypes.              The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 61(2).                                 doi:10.1093/geronb/61.2.p82

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