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Hearing, vision and oral health

As you grow older, your chances of experiencing difficulties with your hearing, vision or oral health may increase. Things that you may have always found easy in the past, such as reading signs clearly while driving or taking part in a conversation at a crowded place such as a shopping centre, may become more challenging.

If you are experiencing hearing, vision or oral health difficulties, there are services that can help.

You will find information below that will direct you towards resources that can provide you with advice about specific hearing, vision or oral health conditions.

Hearing loss

Your hearing may change as you age. While some hearing loss is considered normal as you get older, you are more likely to have problems with your hearing if you are over 55 years of age.

As well as age, your hearing may also be affected by other factors such as your family history, general health and work history.

If you are over 65 years of age, it is recommended that you have your hearing tested every year. You can talk to your doctor about getting a test.

What causes hearing loss?

There are many causes of hearing loss. Some hearing loss may be temporary due to short-term medical conditions such as colds, flu, ear infections or wax in the ear canal.

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • conductive hearing loss (when sounds are blocked in the middle and outer ear from reaching the hearing nerve)
  • sensorineural hearing loss (when sounds can reach the hearing nerve but the hearing nerves send a distorted or damaged message to the brain)
  • mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss).

What services can help?

If you're having difficulties with your hearing, the first step is to see your doctor. They may refer you to another health professional such as an audiologist or audiometrist who will test you hearing and provide specialist advice.

You may be eligible to access subsidised hearing services through the Australian Government Hearing Services Program (the program). Visit the Office of Hearing Services website to find out about eligibility requirements how to apply for the program and hearing service providers in your area. 

Vision loss or blindness

After the age of 40, the risk of eye diseases and vision problems increases threefold every 10 years. People with vision problems can get depression and have an increased risk of falls and hip fractures. People at the highest risk of vision loss are older people and those with diabetes and a family history of vision problems.

Eye diseases and vision problems can go unnoticed, because people think that changes in vision are a natural part of ageing. It's a good idea to have regular eye checks to make sure you are wearing the right prescription.

If you do notice any changes in your vision, it is important to get your eyes tested as soon as possible by an optometrist or ophthalmologist (a medical eye specialist).

What services can help?

An optometrist or ophthalmologist can perform an eye test. Regular eye tests may help detect problems early, which can improve your chances of receiving effective treatment and support.

Eye testing by an optometrist is covered under Medicare. The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) currently provides for a comprehensive optometric consultation every two years. However, if you experience significant changes in your vision, new signs or symptoms, or you have a progressive eye disease, you may be able to access subsidised consultations more regularly. The Medicare Benefits Schedule website lists Medicare services that are subsidised by the Government. You can also ask an optometrist or ophthalmologist about these services.

You may also be eligible for discounts on your glasses and contact lenses if you hold a Seniors Card. Check with eyewear stores in your area to see which ones offer a discount. Another tip that can sometimes save you money is to recycle a favourite pair of frames by having new lenses put in them.

What else can I do to help with my eye health?

There are many things you can do to help your eyes stay healthy including:

  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • eating healthy food – a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of eye disease occurring
  • reducing the amount of glare and ultraviolet radiation to your eyes by wearing a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses and keeping out of the sun during the middle of the day. Make sure that your sunglasses meet the Australian Standard
  • wearing protective eye equipment, such as protective goggles, when undertaking do-it-yourself activities around the home and garden
  • making sure you have good lighting and take regular breaks when working at a computer for long periods of time.

Many people do not realise that smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also affect vision.

What causes vision loss?

Most vision loss in Australia is caused by eye diseases. The most common eye diseases include:

  • Cataracts – a cataract occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. This prevents light entering the eye and results in poor vision. For more information, visit the healthdirect website.
  • Macular degeneration – damage to the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision and for seeing fine detail. If both eyes are affected, reading, recognising faces and driving may become very difficult. For more information, visit the Macular Degeneration website.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – people with diabetes may develop a condition called 'diabetic retinopathy' which can lead to serious loss of vision. If you have diabetes, you should make sure that you have regular eye tests. For more information, visit the Diabetes Australia website.
  • Glaucoma – a condition where the nerve cells that transmit information from the eye to the brain become damaged. It is often associated with a build-up of pressure in the eye. For more information, view a brochure on Glaucoma or visit the Glaucoma Australia website.

Visit the Australian Government's healthdirect website to read more eye health tips for people over 60.

Oral health

Maintaining a high standard of oral health can become increasingly difficult as you grow older. Various age-related changes in the body such as reduced saliva production and chronic diseases such as diabetes may make it harder for you to care for your teeth and gums properly, as well as increasing your susceptibility to certain oral health conditions.

What can I do to help with my oral health?

There are many things you can do to help with your oral health including:

  • brushing your teeth at least twice a day, especially after meals, and use dental floss between the teeth to remove plaque which causes gum disease
  • using a fluoride toothpaste (the dentist may be able to recommend a special toothpaste for sensitive areas on the teeth)
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding sweet foods and drinks between meals
  • cleaning your mouth and dentures thoroughly each day if you have dentures and having both checked by the dentist regularly
  • visiting the dentist at recommended intervals that suit your dental condition and age to screen for dental disease and more serious diseases of the mouth
  • telling the dentist about any general health problems and medications you are taking, as this may affect your dental health and treatment.

Last reviewed: 30 June, 2015.