Many of us have friends or parents who are hard of hearing. It is not only a challenge in everyday communication and personal safety, but recent studies have shown that hearing loss can exacerbate the development of dementia. This is another reason why solutions should be pursued to improve hearing if possible.

Hearing aids work better for some people than others. The first step in figuring out if a hearing aid is a potential solution is to get a hearing evaluation done by a qualified audiologist. The evaluation will provide information regarding the type of hearing loss, and whether a hearing aid is worth the investment for that particular individual.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the type of hearing loss someone has and how severely it can impact a person’s hearing will determine how well a hearing aid will work. A variety of hearing aids are available. Sometimes the first hearing aid recommended by the audiologist does the trick. However, a person may try one that is recommended and find it is not helpful. They then may want to ask their audiologist if a different type would be a more effective option.

Hearing aids do not replace or regenerate the hair cells that have been damaged, so they cannot completely restore normal hearing. They can only improve the ability to hear by amplifying sound, which can help someone hear the sounds they have trouble understanding. Even when the sound level improves, a person with a hearing aid may still notice some hearing loss. Although hearing aids can be programmed to amplify certain sounds, they cannot eliminate all background noise.

The ear has three areas: outer, middle, and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. These are transmitted through the three small bones of the middle ear to the fluid-filled inner ear, a snail shaped structure called the cochlea. Within the cochlea are thousands of hair cells that translate the sound vibrations into electrical signals sent to the brain through the auditory nerve. Different sounds affect these tiny hair cells in different ways, causing various signals to be sent to your brain. This is how we distinguish one sound from another.

Hearing aids vary significantly in price, size, and features. Most are digital and can be programmed individually to analyze and adjust sound based on the specific hearing loss, listening needs, and the level of sounds around you. Some fit completely inside the ear canal, others are placed in the outer portion of the ear. Still others must be hooked over the top of the ear and are tucked behind it.

For people who have hearing loss that does not benefit from hearing aids, a device called a cochlear implant may be a useful alternative. When hearing loss develops, in most cases the cochlear hair cells are damaged or missing. This can be the result of aging, exposure to loud noises, or genetic factors.

An audiologist can review individual options and provide advise as to whether a hearing aid or cochlear implant might the better choice for the needs of a person who could benefit from hearing augmentation.

The reality is that many seniors will not wear or cannot benefit from hearing aids. In-home care companions can help keep elders with hearing loss safe in their own homes.