(BPT) - As people age, our hearing tends to decline for multiple reasons, including repetitive exposure to loud sounds and genetic factors. In fact, hearing loss ranks as the third most common chronic condition among all Americans. For older Americans, nearly a quarter of those aged 65 to 74 have hearing loss. That number increases to 50% for those 75 and older.
For people in this situation, obtaining treatment as soon as possible is crucial, as hearing is vital to staying connected with friends and family. Studies have shown that hearing loss can contribute to social isolation, cognitive decline, trouble communicating and more.
While there is no cure for certain types of hearing loss, there are options to treat it and help you maintain an active lifestyle. In fact, the recent ACHIEVE Study found that for older adults at increased risk of cognitive decline, accessing hearing invention, specifically hearing aids, slowed down loss of thinking and memory abilities by 48% over three years.
To help prevent further hearing loss, avoid potential medication-related complications, and make more informed decisions about testing and treatment, here are three tips from Dr. Claire Collord Johnson, audiologist with UnitedHealthcare Hearing:
1. Continue to focus on prevention. Even if you are already experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to avoid exposure to one-time or prolonged loud sounds. When attending events such as concerts or sporting events, use protection such as foam or custom ear plugs.
There may be other activities in your day-to-day routine causing damage, too. Prolonged exposure to noise over 70 decibels over time can damage hearing health. Sources of sound above this decibel level can include lawn mowers, power tools or listening to music at high volumes. When using earbuds or headphones, follow the 60-60 listening rule, which promotes listening to audio devices at no more than 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
2. Consider your overall health. Before starting any new medications, it is important to know that more than 600 prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs have the potential to impact hearing. These medications are known as ototoxic, which means they can contribute to hearing loss, worsen tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or contribute to balance disorders.
Make sure you check with your primary care provider to review any potential side effects of new medications that could cause further harm to your hearing, as well as make sure to follow the guidance from your prescribing physician. Importantly, hearing health is connected to overall health, with untreated hearing loss linked to higher rates of depression, dementia and increased risk of falls.
3. Seek treatment. If you or a loved one believes you may be experiencing hearing loss, it is important to access care as soon as possible. Wearing hearing aids when the condition first arises may help your ears adapt to the re-introduction of lost sounds more effectively, preserving the brain’s ability to process language.
A good place to start is by completing an online hearing test, which offers a hearing health questionnaire to assess your hearing health and learn about potential next steps for care. You can also check with your primary care physician, who may be able to provide a basic test, check for earwax and refer you to a hearing health professional for a comprehensive exam. Depending on your specific needs, an audiologist or hearing health professional may be able to fit you for a prescription hearing aid.
To help make hearing aids more affordable, check with your health plan to determine if any discounts may be available. For instance, people enrolled in most UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans can purchase custom-programmed hearing aids with little to no out-of-pocket costs.i Other potential ways to save on hearing aids include through membership organizations.
Following these tips can play an important role in protecting your hearing health as part of a comprehensive approach to healthy aging.
Learn more: Go to UHCHearing.com to access a free online hearing test*, find a hearing care professional near you, and to save on prescription and OTC hearing aids.
* The online hearing test is not designed to replace a professional hearing test.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in the plan depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare. Benefits, features and/or devices vary by plan/area. Limitations and exclusions apply.
i The cost of hearing aids as well as the method of paying for them varies by plan. Medicare Advantage members should refer to their Evidence of Coverage document or call the number on their health plan ID card to confirm the cost and payment method for their plan.