Aging and hearing loss (presbycusis)Presbycusis: Understanding age-related hearing loss
If a hearing healthcare professional diagnoses you with age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), you’re in good company. About one-third of adults between 65 and 70 have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. About half of all people 75 and older have hearing loss.
How does getting older affect hearing?
As we get older, degeneration within the inner ear and along the nerve pathways to the brain can impact our hearing. Most of the time, these changes are related to the health of tiny hair cells in the inner ear that help us hear. These hair cells translate the sound waves our ears collect and translate them into electrical signals for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Since hair cells do not regenerate or regrow, any hearing loss we experience as a result of this damage is permanent. Presbycusis is one of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss, which means hearing loss related to sensory and nerve cells.
There are also a few other less common types of presbycusis that differ slightly in how and when they affect people, and a person may have multiple forms.
For the most part, this type of hearing loss usually occurs gradually over the span of many years. It usually affects both ears simultaneously (known as "bilateral hearing loss").
Other factors that may contribute to hearing loss and getting older include:
What are the symptoms of age-related hearing loss?
Because presbycusis occurs gradually, many people don’t realize they’re having difficulty hearing. If you’re older and having hearing problems, here are some symptoms that indicate you may have presbycusis:
How is presbycusis diagnosed?
If any of the symptoms we've listed are affecting your ability to hear, make an appointment to see a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible for a hearing evaluation. The results of this evaluation will help determine the cause and extent of your hearing loss, as well as the best solution for treating the problem.
Is there a cure for hearing loss when you get older?
Like most types of sensorineural hearing loss, there is no cure. Fortunately, though, most cases of sensorineural hearing loss can be treated.
Can age-related hearing loss be prevented?
While you can’t do anything about your relatives (much as many of us try), you can take steps to prevent some lifestyle factors linked to hearing loss.
Research also indicates untreated hearing loss puts people at a greater risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well other emotional and physical problems. The good news? Hearing aids can delay the onset of these conditions.
They'll also help you live better. Although today’s hearing aid technology won’t restore your hearing to normal, it will greatly improve your quality of life. Results of a 2011 survey by the Better Hearing Institute concluded that "eight out of ten hearing aid users are satisfied with the changes that have occurred in their lives due to hearing aids." This quality-of-life boost applies to any older adult with hearing loss, including those in nursing homes and assisted living.
How to get help for presbycusis
The key is to have your hearing evaluated and follow the recommended course of treatment if you are diagnosed with hearing loss. For a list of hearing healthcare professionals in your community, along with verified patient reviews, visit our directory of hearing clinics.