Is Your Elderly Patient Hard of Hearing

Among Seniors there is a High Prevalence of Hearing Loss but Low Incidence of Disclosure

Nadia Sandor, MSc
Audiologist, Mt. Sinai Hospital

Elderly listeners often have difficulties with their hearing in typical, everyday situations. For example, they may fail to hear faint sounds, especially in an area with a great deal of background noise. They may also have difficulty ascertaining the direction from which a sound is coming--for instance, determining whether the telephone is ringing in the kitchen or whether the ringing is coming from a television program.1 Finally, they may have trouble distinguishing between or understanding persons talking in a restaurant or at the dinner table. Moreover, these difficulties with hearing become more apparent and more debilitating when the listening environment is more complex (such as at a large noisy gathering in a highly reverberant room).1

Hearing loss starts as early as the third or fourth decade of life, and it is well known that both its incidence and prevalence increase with advancing age.2 Auditory deficits, which differ from hearing loss in that they encompass hearing threshold changes and changes in temporal and spectral resolution, also increase markedly with age, beginning in the fourth decade. Hearing loss has been identified as the most prevalent chronic disability among older adults, exceeded only by arthritis and hypertension.