Hearing, Vision & Dental Health
Prevention, diagnosis and treatment for common sensory impairments.
There are a few things in life (like gouda cheese) that get better with age. Unfortunately, your ability to see and hear things does not improve as you grow older. Miniscule hairs inside your ears break down gradually and don’t detect sound vibrations as well as they did in years gone by. Your pupils lose strength and become less responsive to lighting changes. Peripheral vision also decreases with age. Your oral health may decline as well, making it harder to enjoy that gouda burger (or other foods) you once loved. Sensory impairments don’t have to diminish the quality of life for older adults. Preventative care, early detection and treatment can correct common problems and/or slow the progression of more serious conditions so you or your loved one can continue to live life to the fullest.
When to See a Hearing Specialist
Age-related hearing loss — referred to as presbycusis in the medical community — is natural. Approximately 50% of Americans older than 75 have some sort of auditory impairment. Despite how common presbycusis is, older adults are less likely to see a doctor about hearing loss than vision loss. Why? Perhaps because the onset is gradual and isn’t as noticeable as other sensory impairments. You may not realize the volume on your television has inched up decibel levels that rival an approaching train rather than a pleasant conversation because it happens one remote click at a time. Or, the hesitancy may have something to do with misconceptions surrounding the comfort or cost of hearing aids. Some people are simply embarrassed to admit they are having difficulty hearing. The sooner you get tested and seek treatment, however, the better. Search our listings to find an audiologist in your area.
Symptoms of Auditory Impairment
There are several signs of hearing loss. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist if you notice you or your loved one is:
Hearing ringing in ears
Not participating in group conversations
Declining social invitations
Avoiding phone conversations
Turning up the volume on electronics to higher levels than before
Asking others to speak louder or slower
Having difficulty distinguishing consonants
Reading lips to understand others, especially when there is background noise
Complaining about muffled sounds
Everyone experiences hearing loss differently. Depending on the type and severity of the impairment, only a few symptoms may be present. But even mild symptoms can interfere with daily life and should be evaluated by a professional. It’s also a good idea for older adults to get regular hearing tests even if they haven’t noticed signs of hearing loss.
Causes and Prevention
Age isn’t the only factor that contributes to hearing loss. Those who listen to loud music, work with heavy machinery, smoke cigarettes or are exposed to certain chemicals are more likely to experience problems. Genetic makeup plays a role as well. And people prone to middle ear infections are also at a higher risk. Sometimes excessive earwax or medications may temporarily reduce your auditory ability.
If a sound is loud enough you have to raise your voice to be heard or it causes ringing in your ears afterward, it can cause permanent damage. Wearing noise-canceling earmuffs or safety earplugs in loud environments reduces sound by 15 to 30 decibels. Using closed captioning on televisions instead of increasing the volume and setting volume limits on smartphones can also prevent permanent hearing loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
While online hearing tests may offer a glimpse of your auditory abilities, they are not a reliable diagnosis. Medicare Part B includes coverage for diagnostic hearing exams with an audiologist when ordered by a healthcare provider. Audiologists perform a thorough examination that includes a variety of tests, with results plotted on an audiogram. Where your test results fall on the audiogram determines the type of hearing loss you are experiencing — conductive, sensorineural or mixed — and how to improve your hearing.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are not able to move from the outer ear to the inner ear. It may be caused by fluid in the ear or an infection, which is usually treated with prescription medication. In some cases, surgery may be required on the eustachian tube to enable proper drainage and prevent future infections. Conductive hearing loss may also be caused by a blockage in the ear canal. In this case, the removal of earwax or benign tumors restores your hearing.
Sensorineural hearing loss is triggered when the inner ear or nerve pathways are permanently damaged. Because this type of impairment is irreversible, audiologists usually recommend a specific type of hearing aid. Keep in mind the best hearing aid for your situation may not be the same as someone else’s. Compatible telephones with call captioning can also be used to help you stay connected with loved ones, as well as mobile apps with similar capabilities. Original Medicare does not cover the cost of hearing aids or captioning devices, but some Medicare Advantage Plans do. Even if you don’t have supplemental insurance, there are a variety of affordable solutions to choose from.
Mixed hearing loss is diagnosed when conductive and sensorineural impairments occur simultaneously and are treated accordingly.
Find Sound Solutions For Your Hearing Health
Search our listings to find an audiologist in your area, as well as SeniorLeaf Trusted Providers offering hearing aids, compatible telephones and personal amplification devices. If you need help creating a comprehensive care plan that includes hearing, vision and dental care, call us at 1-833-MY-SENIOR to speak with a Care Advisor.
When to Visit an Optometrist, Ophthalmologist or Optician
Losing vision is disconcerting at any point in one’s life, but especially as an older adult. It limits independence, often making it dangerous to drive or difficult to perform activities of daily living. It also increases the risk of tripping and falling. Getting eye exams regularly is important to your overall well being. But which type of eye care provider should you schedule an appointment with? Visit an optometrist for routine exams and/or to update prescriptions. If you’re wondering where to buy eyeglasses, opticians size and configure prescription eyewear. If you suspect you have a visual impairment that can’t be corrected by wearing contact lenses or glasses, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist.
Signs of Vision Loss or Impairment
Most people notice it becomes more difficult to focus on small print or as they get older. Referred to as presbyopia, this condition is normal and can usually be corrected with reading glasses or prescription eyewear with progressive lenses. Other vision changes are indicative of more serious problems. Some symptoms of sight loss may be gradual, while others may be sudden. If you or your loved one are experiencing any of the following, it’s recommended you seek medical treatment right away. Even if the condition is not curable, early detection is the key to slowing the progression of the impairment and preserving your eyesight for as long as possible.
Clouded or blurred vision
Pain, itching or burning in the eyes
Halos or colors appear around bright objects
Seeing spots or strings
Increased sensitivity to light
White areas in your pupil
Changes in your iris color
Sensation of a curtain over one eye
Difficulty seeing at night
Colors appear duller or have a yellowish tint
People often don’t want to admit that they are having trouble seeing. If you notice changes in your loved one’s daily activities, as listed below, encourage them to schedule an appointment for an eye exam.
Squinting to see objects
Wearing clothing with mismatched colors
Running into objects
Struggling to get food on a fork
Knocking over a drink they are reaching for
Complaining about lighting
Search our listings to find a SeniorLeaf Trusted Provider who can diagnose and treat the condition.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A complete eye exam with an ophthalmologist is the best way to diagnose common visual impairments. This may involve measuring eye pressure, the thickness of your cornea and the thickness of your optic nerve. It may also include a visual acuity test, slit-lamp examination and a retinal examination. The exact scope of the exam will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as which type of visual impairment — cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration — is suspected.
Cataracts occur when proteins in your eye’s lens break down. The primary symptom of a cataract is cloudy or discolored vision. It’s a common condition in people over the age of 60, but can be expedited if you have diabetes, smoke cigarettes or spend a lot of time in the sun. Certain medications may also cause cataracts. In the early stages, your doctor may prescribe stronger eyewear to help you see better. Eventually, however, laser surgery may be deemed medically necessary. Original Medicare typically pays for cataract surgery at this point.
Glaucoma, a group of eye conditions caused by a buildup of fluid and pressure in your eye, permanently damages your optic nerve. It can cause blindness if left untreated. The disease is often hereditary, but may also result from a previous eye injury or taking certain medications for an extended time. Once glaucoma is diagnosed, the goal is to slow the progression of the disease by decreasing pressure and increasing drainage. Eye drops, oral medication, surgery or laser therapy are all used to accomplish this. Medicare Part B generally covers glaucoma screenings for high-risk individuals and care for those who are diagnosed with the disease. Additional coverage may be available through Medicare Advantage or Medicaid.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that anyone with type 1 or 2 diabetes is susceptible to. Careful management of your blood sugar level can lessen your chances of developing the condition, which damages the blood vessels and tissue in the retina. Original Medicare covers annual retinopathy exams for diabetics. Without proper management or treatment, diabetic retinopathy can cause hemorrhages, retinal detachment and glaucoma.
Age-related macular degeneration, a condition that affects the part of the retina responsible for direct sight, is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. It affects the retina’s macula, causing central vision to deteriorate without affecting peripheral vision. There is no cure for AMD, but there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and maximize vision function.
Clear Choices For Your Vision Health
Stop wondering how to improve vision and schedule an appointment with a SeniorLeaf Trusted Provider today. Medical professionals recommend annual eye exams for all adults over the age of 65.
Maintaining Your Oral Health
Aging takes a toll on our oral health, which doesn’t just include dental hygiene but also nutritional habits and overall well being. Diseases that affect your entire body are often first apparent in your mouth. Older adults can keep their mouth healthy by:
Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
Keeping dentures clean
Eating three nutritious meals each day
Limiting alcoholic beverages and other sugary drinks
Avoiding tobacco products
Drinking plenty of water
Asking doctors for different medications if your prescription causes dry mouth
Seeking immediate treatment for tooth pain or visible cavities
Visiting a periodontist for gums that are inflamed and bleeding
Seeking treatment for persistent bad breath
Visiting a dentist annually, even if you have dentures
Finding Convenient, Affordable Dental Care
Most people visit the dentist regularly in their younger years. But as we age, the frequency of visits tends to decrease ... just as our need for dental care increases. Many older adults only have Original Medicare, which does not include dental care. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer dental coverage, though they can be expensive. Rather than neglecting your teeth and gums, consider these affordable alternatives.
Check with your State Medicaid Agency to see if it offers adult dental coverage
Search the American Dental Association to find an accredited education program that offers discounted procedures supervised by a licensed dentist
Visit a dental hygienist for routine checkups rather than a dentist
Enroll in a dental savings plan, like those found in our SeniorLeaf listings
Sometimes the reason older adults don’t visit a dentist or periodontist isn’t financial, but rather logistical. If you or your loved one is homebound or in a care facility, there are dental providers that will come to you. Search our listings to find a solution to your oral health needs.