For some, aging is a process that allows them to slow down, contemplate the subtleties of life, and enjoy the fruits of a lifetime of hard work. Retirement may bring opportunities for travel, spending time with family and cultivating new hobbies or returning to old ones. For others, aging can bring cause stress and worry, as health problems appear, money becomes tight, and a loss of independence looms. For many people, it’s a combination of the two. There is one thing that is extremely common as all people age, however: hearing loss. Over time, the delicate mechanisms of the inner ear deteriorate, decreasing sensitivity to sound. This process is so universal that up to a third of people experience hearing loss after the age of 65, and almost half will lose some of their hearing after the age of 75.
For people who experience hearing impairment at an early age, there is plenty of time to adapt. Infants, children, and young people with hearing difficulties often become fluent in sign language and adept at lip-reading and the interpretation of body language. For older adults, however, the loss of a sense that has always been a fundamental part of how they experience the world can be devastating. Individuals with hearing loss may struggle to follow conversations, and have difficulty hearing music or listening over the phone. They may become easily increasingly prone to social withdrawal because of the frustration of being unable to understand others. Over time, hearing loss can lead to depression and relationship problems.
For the friends and loved ones of someone with hearing loss, it can be very difficult to witness these changes. Someone who was formerly lively and vivacious can become solitary and withdrawn. In these situations, it can be very helpful to adjust your communication style, so as to help the person with hearing loss understand and feel included in conversation. Try talking in well-lit areas, and make ample use of facial expressions and gestures to convey your meaning. Even someone who has been able to hear for most of their life will still be able to pick up on the non-verbal aspects of language, and may even develop the ability to lip-read if given the opportunity.
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