The gradual loss of hearing that comes with age, also known as presbycusis, makes it difficult for older adults to discern what people are saying, hear voices over the telephone or on TV, and participate in conversations and social settings. Because age-related hearing loss is gradual, you may not realize it is getting worse. The National Institute on Aging reports that about one-third of people between 65 and 74 years of age have hearing loss, and almost one-half of people older than that age group have trouble with hearing.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss may be evident if you:
- Have difficulty hearing someone on the phone
- Are unable to follow group conversations
- Frequently ask people to repeat themselves
- Continuously turn up the TV volume, which prompts other viewers to complain
- Are unable to filter voices through background noise
- Perceive everyday speech from others as mumbling
- Do not understand higher-pitched sounds like that of women and children
The National Institute on Aging recommends you see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. You must get emergency medical treatment if you have sudden deafness, known as sensorineural hearing loss. But if you are scheduling a routine hearing exam, check your insurance coverage first.
Medicare coverage for hearing exams
Original Medicare does not cover routine hearing exams, hearing aids or the exams needed to fit your hearing aids.
Medicare Part B does cover hearing and balance exams for diagnostic purposes if your doctor requires these tests to determine your need for medical treatment. You are responsible for 20% of the Medicare-approved amount. If your doctor performs the test in a hospital outpatient facility, a copayment to the hospital will be an additional out-of-pocket expense.
Your doctor may refer you to an audiologist or an otolaryngologist, otherwise known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor.
Do Medicare Advantage plans including hearing exam coverage?
Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, an alternative to Original Medicare, must cover the same level of benefits as Original Medicare but may extend extra benefits to its members. As you research MA availability in your area, you may find multiple Medicare Advantage plans including hearing exam coverage.
Some MA plans cover annual routine hearing exams, evaluation and fitting of hearing aids, plus a hearing aid device. Using the plan’s network provider may be required to get or receive the most benefits. There may be multiple tiers of hearing aids from which you can select, with higher out-of-pocket costs for more advanced devices. Check your plan’s Evidence of Coverage (EOC) to see your plan’s benefits and parameters.
Finding information about hearing loss
Hearing loss in older adults can lead to depression, isolation and dementia. Researchers of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which included 639 participants ranging in age from 36 to 90, concluded that «hearing loss is independently associated with incident all-cause dementia.» If you are diagnosed with hearing loss, don’t be embarrassed to reach out for support. These organizations may be able to help:
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
- American Tinnitus Association
- Hearing Loss Association of America