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Q: What are early signs of age-related hearing loss? Are there things I can do to prevent my parent suffering further hearing loss?

E.A.

Answer: Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. It is estimated that approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is living with hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.

Hearing loss happens for different reasons. Noise-induced hearing loss can occur after many years of exposure to loud noise. Hearing loss can also be caused by viral or bacterial infections, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors and certain medicines. Many people simply lose their hearing slowly as they age. This condition is known as presbycusis.

In the early stages, a person with hearing loss may have difficulty understanding words. He/she is often able to hear the sounds but unable to make out the words, especially when the background noise is high in places like loud restaurants.

Someone with hearing loss may also start speaking in a louder voice than normal, without realizing that they are doing it. A ringing sensation in the ear and inability to hear high pitched sounds can also indicate signs of presbycusis. Being aware of these signs will help you know when it is time to seek professional advice. There are several ways to do this. You can start with your primary care physician, an otolaryngologist (physicians trained to treat ear disorders), an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist. Age related hearing loss cannot be reversed, as it is caused by degeneration of sensory cells, which happens over time. However, it can be treated effectively with hearing aids and other communication devices, including cochlear implants for those who are profoundly hard-of-hearing, or assisted listening devices, for those who would benefit from amplified sound on their phone or out in the community.

Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating and even dangerous. Other than encouraging them to seek professional evaluation and assistance, the best way that you can help a loved one with hearing loss is to respect their needs when you speak with them. Minimizing background noise by turning off the TV and radio will help your voice to stand out more clearly. Make sure that they are able to see your face when you are speaking, and don’t speak with your mouth full or covered. Facial cues and lip reading can go a long way in making your parent’s job of listening easier. Also remember to speak in a loud, clear voice without shouting.

Q: I’m turning 70 and am in pretty good shape, but I want to make sure I maintain my strength as I age. My granddaughter thinks I should try yoga, is that a good idea?

L.H.

Answer: It comes as no surprise to most of us that yoga and meditation, when combined with good diet and exercise habits, presents a number of health benefits. Yoga has become a cultural obsession in America, but it would be a mistake to assume that because of its contemporary, pop culture association today that this ancient practice is only for the young. In fact, research into yoga’s effect on adults 50 and over has expanded in recent years, and people of all ages are finding wellness as they find their way into new poses.

First of all, yoga improves balance through slow, measured movements that tone muscles and test your center of gravity. As people age, their habits tend to become more naturally sedentary. Most of your sense of position in space is in your ankles, and this balance perception can be lost over time if it’s not regularly used. By practicing postures that emphasize standing and balance, you will also be building up strength and confidence that could prevent a bad fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults, and yoga gives you the tools now to continue moving around into your 80s and beyond. Yoga is a weight-bearing activity, and helps slow bone thinning, reducing the risks of osteoporosis. As you age it’s also important to continue caring for your joints, which are vital to maintaining independence and completing daily activities like getting dressed and brushing your teeth. Practicing yoga regularly can also help lubricate joints, staving off debilitating disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

Believe it or not, yoga also sharpens your mind. One 2016 study reported that practicing yoga relaxation techniques for 30 minutes had immediate beneficial effects on brain function and performance among people with multiple sclerosis. Finally, yoga is a mood-boosting activity. The rich combination of breathing, meditation and movement can help to calm nerves. Yoga also induces the relaxation response, which can reduce anxiety and have great impact on our overall sense of well-being.

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AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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