While hearing loss can affect people of all ages, it is more common among older and elderly adults. This is because most adults naturally experience deterioration in hearing ability as they age.
Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, can have profound consequences for those affected by it.
Not only can older adults lose the ability to detect important signals in their environment, like alarms or doorbells, but deterioration in hearing can impair physical and psychological wellbeing.
Age-related hearing loss symptoms
The symptoms of hearing loss can vary considerably depending on the level of hearing deterioration, type of hearing loss and what caused the hearing loss.
Hearing loss will typically start with reduced sensitivity to high frequency sounds, which will gradually make some sounds or words harder to hear.
If you’re affected by hearing loss, you’re likely to experience one or more of the following:
- Difficulty understanding speech during conversation. This can include difficulty in hearing consonants, trouble isolating words from background noise or speech sounding muffled.
- Behavioural changes caused by hearing loss. These can include withdrawal from social situations or avoiding conversation in noisy environments.
- Needing to raise the volume on media devices in order to hear them better. Those around you may notice or comment on the fact that the volume on your devices is unusually loud.
- Feelings of shame, anger, frustration or isolation caused by difficulty in communicating with, and understanding, other people.
While these symptoms may appear self-evident, it estimated that the average person experiencing hearing loss can take up to seven years to seek help for the condition.
This can place these individuals at risk of several negative and avoidable consequences, including:
- Social isolation and a general feeling of disconnection with the environment, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
- An increase in the rate at which the brain shrinks with aging, thereby contributing to increased risk of dementia.
- Risk of suffering falls and other accidental injuries.
Causes of age-related hearing loss
Age-related hearing loss is a natural process but can be accelerated or compounded by other factors.
The most common causes of age-related hearing loss are:
- The organs of the inner ear deteriorating gradually as part of the aging process. The rate at which these organs deteriorate varies significantly between individuals.
- Damage to the inner ear caused by chronic or sudden exposure to loud noises. Loss of hearing is common among individuals who work in noisy environments or operate heavy machinery without adequate ear protection.
- Diseases or ear infections. Diseases like mumps, German measles and meningitis can all cause damage to the cochlea. Meanwhile ear infections that are left untreated can also cause damage to the inner ear.
- Genetic factors, which can predispose some individuals to suffering from hearing loss or place them at greater risk of damage to their inner ear during their lifespan.
- Certain medications frequently prescribed to the elderly that are known to cause or aggravate hearing loss.
Accurately identifying the specific cause of an individual’s age-related hearing loss requires the assistance of a professional hearing care professional. This diagnosis will also play a critical role in determining the most effective treatment for hearing loss.
Concerned that you suffer from age related hearing loss? Book a free hearing test now.
Age-related hearing loss treatment
Age-related hearing loss is no longer a life sentence to social isolation.
Technology to improve the hearing and quality of life of individuals with age-related hearing loss has evolved rapidly over the last decade.
Today individuals with age-related hearing loss can benefit from:
- Removable hearing aids, which can significantly improve hearing ability, especially in challenging sound environments. These are available in variety of styles and configurations, ranging from over-ear to in-ear-canal devices.
- Assistive hearing devices, which can be used independently or in combination with hearing aids to amplify sound from common sound sources like phones or TVs.
- Cochlear implants, which can be used to assist people suffering from profound hearing loss in recovering basic hearing function.
- Other advanced hearing implant technologies such as bone conduction devices, middle ear implants and auditory brain stem implants, which can all recover a degree of hearing function.
Treatment for age-related hearing loss starts with a test by a qualified hearing care provider, who will determine the extent and cause of the hearing impairment before prescribing a suitable treatment.
Factors considered when determining treatment include the patient’s:
- performance in the hearing test
- overall health and medical history
- tolerance of medications
- personal preferences.
Preventing hearing loss in old age
Some degree of hearing loss is an inevitable consequence of the aging process and can also be influenced by genetic factors.
However, the severity of hearing loss can be influenced by environmental factors that are within an individual’s control.
To reduce your risk of suffering significant hearing loss in old age, you should:
- Avoid listening to music at high volumes, particularly when using headphones or earphones.
- Avoid exposure to loud noises in your environment.
- Use protective hearing gear such as a earmuffs or ear plugs if you expect to encounter loud noises in your environment.
- Seek medical treatment if you experience ear infections, ringing in the ears or ear pain. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent some forms of hearing loss.
At what age does hearing loss begin?
Hearing loss can begin occurring at any age depending on an individual’s environment and their genetic vulnerability to suffering hearing damage.
While hearing loss levels start increasing in the population from the age of 20, you are most likely to experience your first loss in hearing ability between the ages of 40 and 59.
What is an age-related hearing loss audiogram?
An age-related hearing loss audiogram is a graph that displays the volume at which a person suffering from age-related hearing loss can hear sounds at different frequencies.
An audiogram is completed during a hearing test and is used to diagnose the extent and nature of an individual’s age-related hearing loss.
It also indicates what type of treatment will be most effective for that individual and how a hearing aid should be programmed to deliver optimal results.
What is age-related hearing loss tinnitus?
Age-related hearing loss tinnitus is experienced as hearing sounds independently of the environment.
This is most commonly experienced as an unpleasant ringing noise. However, tinnitus can also be experienced as hissing, clicking, buzzing or roaring sounds.
Age-related hearing loss tinnitus is typically caused by damage to the hairs in the inner ear, which can cause these hairs to discharge electrical impulses that are interpreted as sound by your brain.