You may think that earwax is an innocuous concern, but this greasy, usually grotesque, buildup can cause serious problems when gone unrecognized, especially for the 2.2 million people living in nursing home or assisted living facilities.
Unfortunately, earwax is one of many indignities that come with aging. Experts say that earwax buildup is more frequently seen in the older population.
Jackie Clark, a board-certified audiologist who is president of the American Academy of Audiology states that “the excessive amount [of earwax] can cause hearing loss or ringing in your ears. Some people experience vertigo, which increases the risk of falling…Right now, we see some correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline.”
Earwax is not wax, but really something called cerumen. Cerumen attaches to dirt and dust, and is produced by the body to clean and safeguard the ears. Usually this process in the body works fine, but in around 30 percent of the elderly population, wax accumulates in the ear to a point where the ear canal is completely blocked. In medical terms this is known as impaction.
Julie Brown, assistant director of nursing in the memory support unit at SilverRidge Assisted Living in Gretna, Neb., said that impacted earwax is an even bigger problem in patients with dementia. She states that impacted earwax exacerbates hearing loss, which hinders communication and consequently increases aggression and other negative behaviors.
“As soon as the earwax is cleared up, even their behavior has calmed down,” Brown said.
Those with hearing-aids should have regular ear checks every three to six months, and those with dementia should have earwax removed regularly.
For most people, the best way to deal with earwax is to leave it alone; however, this advice can cause more harm in families or caregivers who ignore to check the ears of the elderly.
Checking ears for cerumen buildup is an easy way to prevent future problems or situations that could have been easily avoided.