Age-related hearing loss
Medically known as presbycusis, hearing loss in old age should never be dimissed
If your health care provider has recently told that you have age-related hearing loss (medically known as presbycusis), you’re in good company. Statistics show 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.
Don't ignore hearing loss later in life
Although common, don't accept hearing loss as "part of getting older." Just like vision, hearing is a critical brain activity. Untreated hearing loss—even mild hearing loss—can lead to auditory deprivation.
Simply put, hearing health = brain health.
Why does it happen?
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.
How does it affect my hearing?
For the most part, age-related hearing loss (ARHL) occurs gradually over the span of many years. It usually affects both ears simultaneously (known as "bilateral hearing loss") and causes high-frequency hearing loss, meaning higher-pitched sounds are harder to hear.
When listening to people speak, this means certain consonants are harder to hear, making words like "that" and "sat" sound the same.
Types of presbycusis
Presbycusis is one of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss, which means hearing loss is related to deterioration of the cells within the inner ear and/or nerve pathways to the brain.
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. According to Canadian Hearing Services:
Will I lose my hearing as I get older?
It depends largely on your genetic and medical history, as well as your exposure to noise over the years. A firearm enthusiast is at much higher risk than a gardener, for example. Because of the nature of their work, veterans are at perhaps highest risk for both hearing loss (and tinnitus) as they get older. In general, factors that contribute to presbycusis include:
What are the symptoms of hearing loss in old age?
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 age-related hearing loss 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 presbycusis?
You are never too old for hearing aids
Like most types of sensorineural hearing loss, there is no cure. Fortunately, though, most cases of sensorineural hearing loss can be treated. Keep in mind that people in their 80s, 90s and beyond can wear hearing aids—there is no age limit.
Can I prevent hearing loss associated with old age?
While you can’t do anything about your relatives (much as many of us try), you can take steps to prevent hearing loss.
Health risks of untreated hearing loss when you're older
Research indicates untreated hearing loss among older adults 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 dementia and provide other health benefits.
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. 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.