- Published on 03 September 2018
CNN’s Health-Live Longer column recently ran an article on an overlooked yet common problem in elderly people: earwax (or cerumen) build-up.
The buildup occurs more frequently in elderly people than in the younger generations, the article says. When the condition is not identified, it can pose serious problems. About 10% of young children, 20% of adults, and more than 30% of the elderly and people with developmental disabilities can present serious cases where cerumen collects so much that it can completely block the ear canal.
“The excessive amount [of earwax] can cause hearing loss or ringing in your ears. Some people experience vertigo, which increases the risk of falling,” Jackie Clark, a board-certified audiologist and President of the American Academy of Audiology told CNN. “Right now, we see some correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline.”
The condition is complicated because in some cases, the best approach is not to intervene. In others though, not reacting can lead to serious hearing and balance problems that can affect the quality of life and even the behavior of more elderly people. Additionally, the risks of self-treatment can be high because people are not aware of how sensitive the ear structures are. The solution probably lies in closer monitoring of people who are unlikely to report or notice the problem themselves.
The benefits are real: a small study carried out in Japan in 2014 found significant improvements in hearing and cognitive performance in elderly patients with memory disorders when impacted cerumen was removed (Geriatrics & Gerontology International, April 2014).