Sight and Hearing Impairment in the Elderly

Hearing Impairment in the Elderly

As we age our five senses i.e. sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch become less acute. Sight and hearing seem to deteriorate most noticeably, however hearing is the last sense to cease in the human body, so bear in mind if you’re sitting with someone in the last hours of their life, they can still hear you.


There are many reasons for your sight to wane, the most common of course being the ageing process, but other conditions can exacerbate it. One being glaucoma, which is usually a genetic disease and can be controlled by drops or even minor surgery, if necessary. The condition is detected usually by an optometrist or even an astute doctor, as they say the eyes give away lots of bodily conditions.

When you have an eye test the optician will perform a puffer test into each eye, or a new process called the blue light test, which not all opticians have the equipment to perform this new test. The result of this will show him/her whether you are starting with the condition of glaucoma, which is raised pressure around the optic nerve. Many people in third world countries go blind with glaucoma as it usually goes untreated. It is the second most common form of blindness in the Western world.

The NHS will treat this condition or you can see a private eye specialist if you so desire. Once controlled it should stabilise, but regular eye field vision checks are necessary annually. Adult children of anyone suffering with this condition will be given free regular eye tests over the age of 40.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is another, more debilitating eye condition, again which does not usually lead to complete blindness if left untreated. This is where you lose central vision, and only have peripheral vision. In most people it happens very slowly, therefore it can go unnoticed for a while, sometimes making it too late to save the sight. Lutein available from health food shops is a very good herbal treatment to prevent AMD worsening. Again it is very important to have regular eye tests as you age, and they are free for the over 60’s, so there is no reason not to have them.

There is no cure or & little treatment at the moment for this condition but an ophthalmologist will advise you on how to avoid it worsening. There are two forms of AMD as it is usually called, the wet form and the dry form, which about 90% of people suffer from which develops more slowly but is less serious than the wet form, which can come on more suddenly.

If you think you have anything wrong with your eyes you must immediately consult a specialist as your eyes are very precious and you need to do all you can to protect them as you age.

There are other age related eye conditions to be aware of such as double vision, cataracts, which can be removed very successfully these days, detached retina, can be dangerous if not treated quickly, floaters in front of the eyes need to be checked out, plus diabetics need to be aware of anything untoward e.g. blurred vision, blind spots etc. Dry eyes when your eyes become scratchy or itchy is also common with age, can be treated with lubricating eye drops and is not sight threatening, just a nuisance really.


As you approach your fifties many people can find in a busy, noisy room they cannot hear everything that is being said, this can be just a slow deterioration in your hearing. Most people retain very good hearing into old age, this again can come under the gene umbrella. Some people have a very good gene pool, others not.

High frequency sounds are the first to go, men’s voices being louder are heard better than women’s. Damage may have been done in earlier years by repeated exposure to extra loud music, listening to loud music with hearing devices, some sounds come across as overly loud e.g. alarms, beeping sounds from technical equipment. It is caused by changes in the inner ear e.g. you have minute hairs in your inner ear that help you hear, in time these get damaged or die, resulting in impaired hearing. Most over 75’s have some hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a slow process and is permanent. However there are many aids to help the condition e.g. hearing aids, which are a lot more sophisticated now than ever and can hardly be detected as being worn, amplifiers for telephones, sign language, and lip-reading can all be used to alleviate the problem. Implants can be carried out to improve hearing slightly if necessary.

Wax in the ear canal is often causing some hearing problem and this can be removed by a nurse, but carefully and the wax must be warmed with olive oil first, to avoid causing any damage to the inner ear canal.

Of course it causes some social isolation and frustration in the elderly, they tend to think everyone is mumbling and keep asking them to speak up, you can often remember shouting loud to an elderly person so they can hear you. They also tend to switch their televisions up to such a pitch that other people find it uncomfortable. They also feel ignored by society if they cannot engage in social interaction, can get depressed and worry people will think they are dumb as well as deaf, as the two conditions used to be associated in the early part of the last century.

Hearing tests are offered by the NHS Audiology clinics, they often do have long

waiting lists. You must stress when reporting the condition how acute it is for more immediate treatment. Local pharmacists often conduct free hearing tests, along with private hearing centres appearing in most town centres.

If in doubt get your hearing or that of an elderly relative tested, it is a slow process but the condition can be made more acceptable the earlier it is diagnosed.

So an awareness of sight and hearing impairment can be an essential part of understanding how to administer care for an elderly parent or relative.

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