Related Help Pages: Hearing loss Types

Hearing loss in adulthood

Contributed by | Monday, August 17th, 2015

Remember the outdated stereotype that hearing aids are only for people who are "old?" Of course, we know now that is not the case. As a matter of fact, the number of people between the ages of 32 and 50 (also known as "Generation X") with hearing loss is estimated to be 7.4 percent and climbing.

In actuality, ages 19 to 44 is the most common period for the onset of hearing loss. In the U.S. approximately 6 million Gen-Xers and millennials have experienced hearing loss to some degree due to a variety of factors; music at unsafe volumes through earbuds, loud concerts and sporting events, clubs and environmental or workplace noise are just part of the problem. 

Hearing loss in early adulthood
doesn't have to slow you down;
hearing aids today can meet
many different lifestyles. 

While the most common cause of hearing loss in the elderly is presbycusis, also known as age-related hearing loss, hearing loss in younger adulthood can be caused by many things. Noise-induced hearing loss is a common factor, as are medical reasons such as diabetes, high blood pressure, exposure to ototoxic medications, viral or bacterial infections or genetics. But the most common cause of hearing loss in younger to middle aged adults is otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear. Up to 3 million people in the U.S. are affected by it, with the highest risk group being middle-aged women.

Not only are the primary causes of hearing loss different for younger adults, but life with hearing aids in your 20s, 30s and 40s can look remarkably different than having hearing aids in your older years. That's because when it comes work, family, relationships and activities, people of those ages are in a different stage of life than that of most older people, and so having hearing aids impacts them differently.

Take professional life, for example. While older adults are frequently looking toward retirement, those in their 20s are often just out of college and searching for their first job. They have to decide when to disclose to a potential employer that they have hearing aids. Even those who have been in the workforce for a while might potentially need special equipment such as a telephone with amplification, CART, a caption telephone or other assistive equipment. Those with hearing aids should find out if their potential employer is willing to accommodate their hearing needs. The use of hearing aids also can influence career choice, as certain professions might not lend themselves well to difficulty hearing high-frequency sounds (a common problem with hearing aids).

The challenge of parenting with hearing aids, especially infants or young children, is another difference from the older user. While hearing aids are certainly necessary for safety and communication, their use also adds nuances and special considerations. A parent who uses hearing aids, for example, will want to use a baby monitor that flashes lights or vibrates in response to the baby crying, and maybe a video monitor as well. And for parents, making sure their hearing aids are in top condition at all times is of special concern.

Another difference between the generations when it comes to the use of hearing aids is that many younger adults are concerned about college or even continuing education, so use of hearing aids becomes crucial to their classroom experience. Unfortunately people of this age may not get the support they need in a classroom setting. Young adults especially need to learn to be their own advocate, be proactive and speak up about what they need in order to be successful.

Hearing aids can also have a significant effect on household income, a common concern of those in their prime working years. The results of a Better Hearing Institute survey of 40,000 U.S. households showed that the use of hearing aids and FM systems had a positive effect on earning potential and income; they were shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with mild hearing loss, and by 65 to 77 percent for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.

Hearing aids even have a more pronounced benefit on the mental health of the younger generation. A 2014 study showed that while hearing loss is associated with the risk of depression in adults of all ages, is most prevalent in younger adults. So while hearing aids benefit all users regardless of age, it seems that younger users have the most to gain when it comes to preventing depression; use of hearing aids can lead to fewer depressive symptoms, greater social engagement, and overall better quality of life.

When it comes to hearing aids, there are significant differences between the older generation and the younger generation in both use and perception. Though most of the marketing of hearing aids is aimed toward senior citizens, the younger generation seems to be more accepting of the use of hearing assistive devices. This could be due to the fact that everywhere you go someone has some sort of a device attached to their ears, whether it is Bluetooth, headphones or earbuds; as a result these days hearing aids don't draw as much attention. More and more, the stigma of having hearing aids is dissipating, and those of the younger generation often find that their hearing loss, untreated, is more noticeable than the device used to correct it.

The good news is that those in younger adulthood and middle age have one distinct advantage when it comes to hearing loss. Getting it diagnosed and treated earlier might give them an opportunity to protect what they have left of their hearing and avoid anything that can cause further loss.

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