Hearing Loss from Old Age

GranddThanksgiving With Grandparents

Hearing loss in old age is medically known as presbycusis and should never be overlooked upon diagnosis.  If you have recently been diagnoses by presbycusis by a healthcare provider, you may be please to hear that about one-third of adults between the ages of 65 and 70 have some extent of hearing loss according to audiologists.  Furthermore, over half of people who are older than 75 experience hearing loss. 

Catch it Early

You may be tempted to ignore a slight loss in hearing ability as you age and could even be in denial of the circumstances.  However, even though it is a common part of growing older, hearing is vital for healthy brain activity.  Hearing loss should not go untreated, as the resultant auditory deprivation can have negative effects on brain activity. 

How Does Hearing Loss from Old Age Happen?

As the body grows old and tired, it is possibly for degeneration to occur in the inner ear, as well as on the pathways to the brain that are projected from the sensory parts of the ear.  Generally speaking, these effects stem from changes in the health of the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that allow us to hear.  By conducting the sound waves that reach the ear into electrical signals, these hair cells play a vastly important role in allowing people to hear sounds. Hair cells are unable to grow back after dying off, which is why we experience gradual hearing loss following the onset of old age.

What is the Effect on My Hearing? 

In general, presbycusis affects both ears (bilateral hearing loss) at the same time.  Further, it is characteristic of this hearing loss from old age to cause people to lose hearing for “high-frequency” sounds.  Higher pitched sounds become more difficult to hear and can heavily affect one’s ability to differentiate between consonant sounds. 

The Different Kinds of Presbycusis

Though most of presbycusis is affected by the degeneration of the inner hair cells in the ear, a type of sensorineural hearing loss, there are other less common types of presbycusis that have different biological causes.  These less common kinds of age-related hearing loss can affect people at different ages and to different extents, and one person can even have multiple kinds at once.  According to experts, here are a few of those types of presbycusis:

  • Mechanical presbycusis: thickening of ear tissues
  • Metabolic presbycusis: blood supply deficiency to the inner ear cells
  • Mixed presbycusis: a mixture of any of the kinds of presbycusis
  • Indeterminate presbycusis: where health professionals are unable to determine the cause

Is Hearing Loss during Old Age Inevitable?

There are many factors that play into whether or not you will experience presbycusis.  For example, genetics and medical history can be all the difference in whether you will be afflicted.  For example, one’s occupation can determine their risk for hearing loss.  A veteran soldier who has been in battle and lived through many loud explosions and gun-firing would likely experience hearing loss from old age as opposed to someone with a career in plumbing.  Here are some of the factors that play a role in presbycusis diagnoses:

  • Genetics: Find out if your parents experienced hearing loss, as this would likely put you at a higher risk for developing presbycusis
  • Medical conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, and other medical problems can also have an effect.  For example, some women experience age related hearing loss following menopause
  • Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL): This is one of the most tell-tale ways you can know if you are at risk for presbycusis.  If you have been prone to hearing loud noises for prolonged periods of time at work, home, or anywhere else, you should be cautious about presbycusis

The Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Old Age

Most people have a tough time realizing they are having increased difficulty hearing as they age because of the fact that presbycusis is so gradual.  Though, if you are able to detect that you may be having presbycusis, here are a few of the symptoms that you may be having

  • It is difficult for you to understand conversations.  In particular it is hard to understand them while there is background noise
  • Specific kinds of sounds seem to be excessively irritating to you
  • Others seem to mumble, slur their speech, or be incomprehensible.  Sometimes, you can hear others, but you have difficulty with detecting their words because of the increased difficulty in separating different consonant noises
  • Deeper voices are easier for you to understand than those with high-pitched voices
  • It is more difficult for you to hear high pitched sounds like your phone ringer, birds chirping, or fire alarms going off
  • You suffer from a ringing or buzzing noise that does not seem to go away after time

How is Presbycusis Diagnosed by Health Professionals? 

If you happen to be experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you ought to make an appointment with a hearing expert soon in order to get your hearing tested.  These results will typically give you more information on the cause of your hearing loss and how damaging it has become.  Further, you will likely learn more about the solution for the problem that is best for you

The Cure for Age-Related Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, due to the sensorineural nature of presbycusis (like many other types of neuronal related hearing loss), there is no biological cure for this kind of hearing loss.  However, hearing specialists can help treat almost all cases of presbycusis typically by giving them different kinds of hearing assistance devices. 

  • Hearing aids.  Once you receive a complete hearing evaluation, an audiologist may recommend that you get hearing aids.  Hearing aids can be beneficial for those with mild or moderate hearing loss.  Further, your hearing healthcare provider can encourage you to purchase a specific type and style of hearing aid according to how bad your hearing loss is and what you can afford
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs).  These devices are able to amplify the sounds from your day-to-day technology, such as your TV or phone.  These need not always be used with hearing aids depending on the extent of your hearing loss. 
  • Cochlear Implants.  These are typically given to older adults and can benefit those with severe hearing loss.  Cochlear implants are implanted behind your ear by surgery in order to help people with hearing loss better detect sounds

Is Presbycusis Preventable? 

Unfortunately, there is not really much that can be done to reverse hearing loss.  However, there are steps you can take as you begin to grow older to prevent your risk of experiencing presbycusis.  

  • Remove yourself from environments with loud noises.  Sounds that measure more than 85 decibels can permanently damage hearing if you are exposed to them for an extended or repeated periods of time.  Examples of sounds measuring at higher than 85 decibels are emergency sirens, concerts, and even heavy city traffic.  Experts say that you can greatly reduce your risk of hearing loss when exposed to loud noises by wearing earplugs or another kind of hearing protection equipment.  Additionally, removing yourself from noisy environments is another way to be sure to decrease your risk of hearing loss.
  • Check with your doctor about possible side effects from the medication you are taking.  For some medications, the side effects can include hearing loss.  If this is the care for something you are prescribed, talk to your doctor about the possibility of getting a different medication prescribed to you.  Excessive amounts of pain relievers such as aspirin can take a toll on your hearing abilities, so try to steer away from taking these kinds of medications too often. 
  • Be aware of how other health conditions can play a role in hearing loss.  If you are diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease, do your best to adhere to your doctor’s advise on controlling these conditions (proper diet, exercise, medications, etc.).  The tiny hair cells located in your inner ear rely on dependable blood flow to function properly and remain healthy.  

Untreated Hearing Loss can Increase other Health Risks

If presbycusis goes untreated, research shows that older adults are at a greater risk for developing other aging related health conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (in addition to other physical and emotional problems).  Because of this, it is important to get your hearing checked by a professional if you have any inclination that you are possibly losing your hearing capability.  Hearing aids can work wonders when it comes to assisting your hearing and preventing you from developing other age-related health conditions.

Furthermore, hearing aids can greatly improve your quality of life in general.  They will not fully revive your hearing, but you will still benefit from them.  A boost in the quality of life of older adults in places like nursing homes and assisted living centers have proven to improve their health over long periods of time. 

How to Get Help

The one way that you can receive assistance for your presbycusis is by getting your hearing evaluated by a hearing healthcare professional.  After this, you must adhere to the treatment recommended by this healthcare provider, such as using hearing aids.