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Editor’s Note: We normally publish this column on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, but we’ve dealt with some scheduling conflicts due to news assignments which overlapped which resulted in the first column to not be published on April 11. Additionally, due to similar conflicts taking place on April 25, the editorial staff opted to publish this as a “double feature” in order to catch up on the first column and get the second column published early this week. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have resulted in.
It seems like a lot of my friends are watching TV with the volume way up, and accusing everyone of mumbling. How common are hearing problems among seniors?
About one in three Americans over 60 suffers from loss of hearing, which can range from the inability to hear certain voices to deafness.
There are two basic categories of hearing loss. One is caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is permanent. The second kind occurs when sound can’t reach the inner ear. This can be repaired medically or surgically.
Presbycusis, one form of hearing loss, occurs with age. Presbycusis can be caused by changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear. Some of its causes are aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure. It seems to be inherited.
Tinnitus, also common in older people, is the ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears frequently caused by exposure to loud noise or certain medicines. Tinnitus is a symptom that can come with any type of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can by caused by “ototoxic” medicines that damage the inner ear. Some antibiotics are ototoxic. Aspirin can cause temporary problems. If you’re having a hearing problem, ask your doctor about any medications you’re taking.
Loud noise contributes to presbycusis and tinnitus. Noise has damaged the hearing of about 10 million Americans, many of them Baby Boomers who listened to hard rock with the volume turned up as far as possible.
Hearing problems that are ignored or untreated can get worse. If you have a hearing problem, see your doctor. Hearing aids, special training, medicines and surgery are options.
Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a physician who specializes in problems of the ear. Or you may be referred to an audiologist, a professional who can identify and measure hearing loss. An audiologist can help you determine if you need a hearing aid.
There other “hearing aids” you should consider. There are listening systems to help you enjoy television or radio without being bothered by other sounds around you. Some hearing aids can be plugged directly into TVs, music players, microphones, and personal FM systems to help you hear better.
Some telephones work with certain hearing aids to make sounds louder and remove background noise. And some auditoriums, movie theaters, and other public places are equipped with special sound systems that send sounds directly to your ears.
Alerts such as doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks can give you a signal that you can see or a vibration that you can feel. For example, a flashing light can let you know someone is at the door or on the phone.
I’m having a devil of time controlling my bladder. Any suggestions?
About 10 percent of men and women over the age of 65 have trouble with bladder control, also know officially as urinary incontinence. Women suffer from this more than men.
During urination, muscles in the bladder contract, forcing urine into the urethra, a tube that carries urine out of the body. At the same time, muscles surrounding the urethra relax and let the urine pass. If the bladder muscles contract or the muscles surrounding the urethra relax without warning, the result is incontinence.
Short-term incontinence is caused by infections, constipation, and some medicines. If the problem persists, it might be caused by weak bladder muscles, overactive bladder muscles, blockage from an enlarged prostate, damage to nerves that control the bladder from diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s.
In most cases urinary incontinence can be treated and controlled, if not cured. If you are having bladder control problems, go to your doctor. Doctors see this problem all the time, so there is no need to be embarrassed.
Your doctor may do a number of tests on your urine, blood and bladder. You may be asked to keep a daily chart about your urination.
There are several different types of urinary incontinence.
- If urine leaks when you sneeze, cough, laugh or put pressure on the bladder in other ways, you have “stress incontinence.”
- When you can’t hold urine, you have “urge incontinence.”
- When small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is always full, you have “overflow incontinence.”
- Many older people who have normal bladder control but have difficulty getting to the bathroom in time, have “functional incontinence.”
There are many ways to treat urinary incontinence. The method depends upon the type of problem.
You can train your bladder with exercises and biofeedback. You can also chart your urination and then empty your bladder before you might leak.
Your doctor has other tools he can use. There are urethral plugs and vaginal inserts for women with stress incontinence. There are medicines that relax muscles, helping the bladder to empty more fully during urination. Others tighten muscles in the bladder and urethra to cut down leakage.
Surgery can improve or cure incontinence if it is caused by a problem such as a change in the position of the bladder or blockage due to an enlarged prostate. Common surgery for stress incontinence involves pulling the bladder up and securing it. When stress incontinence is serious, the surgeon may use a wide sling. This holds up the bladder and narrows the urethra to prevent leakage.
Even if treatment is not fully successful, management of incontinence can help you feel more relaxed and comfortable about the problem.