Presbycusis: Understanding age-related hearing loss
If a hearing healthcare professional diagnoses you with presbycusis, congratulations: You’ve lived long enough to develop age-related hearing loss and 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.
What is presbycusis?
Medically, presbycusis is a type of "sensorineural hearing loss" that occurs as you age. 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, presbycusis usually occurs gradually over the span of many years. It typically affects both ears simultaneously (known as "bilateral hearing loss"), and occurs due to age-related changes within the inner ear and along the nerve pathways to the brain.
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.
Other factors that may contribute to presbycusis 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 for presbycusis. 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 of the other factors that cause presbycusis.
Presbycusis sneaks up on you and, left untreated, is linked to a multitude of additional health problems such as anxiety, depression and social isolation. 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 help you live longer.
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.
Here's 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 authentic patient reviews, visit Healthy Hearing's online consumer-reviewed directory of providers, which includes thousands of clinic reviews from patients.