Did you know that roughly 20% of Americans have some degree of hearing loss?
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 48 million people report hearing impairment in one or both ears. By the age of 65, at least 33% suffer from hearing impairment due to old age.
That’s a lot of people experiencing hearing loss due to age and the wide range of environmental factors.
Hearing loss is normal with age, but why do old people go deaf?
What’s causing the deafness due to old age anyway? Is it a problem with the ear itself, the auditory nerve, or the brain?
Below, you’ll find out everything you need to know about hearing loss with age, such as what causes it, why it’s more common among the elderly, and what you can do to prevent it. By the time you finish this page, you’ll know everything you need to know about the normal hearing loss.
Why Do Old People Go Deaf?
As our bodies age, they stop functioning at optimum conditions. Our muscles grow weaker, our heart stops pumping blood as efficiently, and our brain function decreases. A lot of the body’s natural processes suffer as a result.
One of the most common side effects of growing old is hearing loss.
Note: Age-related hearing loss is a condition known as presbycusis.
It’s a fairly common condition that affects a startling number of senior citizens (up to one in three). Thankfully, it’s a problem that can be dealt with once you understand it.
What is Presbycusis?
No doubt you’re wondering “What is presbycusis anyways?” It seems like too fancy a name for “hearing loss caused by old age”, right?
Simply put, presbycusis is a problem that sets in as you grow older where your auditory nerve function decreases, as does your brain’s ability to process the sounds you hear. Basically, your ears just stop functioning as well as they used to.
How can you recognize presbycusis? A few of the symptoms of age-related hearing loss include:
- Some specific sounds may seem extra loud
- There is a ringing in your ears (like tinnitus)
- You find you have to turn up the radio or TV to hear what is being said
- You have a hard time hearing a difference between the “th” and “s” sounds
- You cannot hear children’s or female voices clearly
- You have a hard time hearing high-pitched sounds
- Background noises are harder to hear
- Telephone conversations are very hard to understand
All of these things are a sign that you are suffering from hearing loss or impairment. If you happen to be older than the age of 40 or 50, it’s most likely hearing loss due to age.
But what’s causing the problem? Why are you having a hard time hearing these sounds you used to be able to recognize and understand so easily?
There are a number of things that can contribute to presbycusis, including:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Reduced circulation/vascular disorders
- Genetics (a family history of hearing impairment)
- Excessive tobacco use (smoking)
Basically, all of these things cause damage to your body, leading to a number of changes. Perhaps the structure of the inner ear has changed, or the amount of blood that flows to your ears is affected by your lifestyle or health.
Perhaps something has impaired the auditory nerves, preventing them from detecting the signal clearly. Or, maybe you’ve damaged the tiny hairs in your ears, the hairs responsible for transmitting sound. Perhaps your health or age has affected your brain, altering the way it detects and processes both speech and general sounds.
Whatever the cause, it’s vital to understand that something in your auditory system has changed. The changes can occur gradually over time, or they can happen all at once. In most cases of presbycusis, the change is gradual. It takes years or decades for the hearing loss to kick in; hence it’s known as “age-related hearing loss”.
Now that you know the answer to the question “What is presbycusis”, you may be wondering, “Well, how can I be sure it’s actually hearing loss, and not just impacted ear wax or an infection?”
Well, in order to be 100% certain that you are suffering from presbycusis, it’s a good idea to visit your general physician and get checked out. You should undergo a physical examination of your ears to determine the cause of your hearing impairment.
Your doctor will search for any impacted ear wax or signs of infection, but if there are none present, it’s most likely to be presbycusis. This is especially true if you are older than 40 or 50. If the hearing test determines that you have suffered hearing loss, they will most likely chalk it up to hearing impairment due to old age.
How to Prevent and Treat Hearing Impairment Due to Old Age
Worried that you might be suffering from hearing loss with old age? You may be scared that you will no longer be able to hear, and you won’t be able to enjoy the things you once did.
But don’t sweat it! There are many solutions to help you treat your age-related hearing loss, including:
These electronic devices are surgically implanted in your inner ear, and they help to detect sounds and transmit those signals to your brain. They are a good option for those who have severe hearing impairment or deafness.
These electronic devices are designed to be worn in or behind your ear, where they serve as an amplifier to make the sounds louder. They’re basically a microphone that detects the sounds, then amplifies them to make them easier for your ears to hear.
They’re a good option for people with some hearing impairment. They take a bit of getting used to, but you’ll find that they can help you grow accustomed to life with presbycusis.
Assistive Listening Devices
These devices are like amplifiers that you use with cell phones and telephones to make it easier for you to understand what is being said. They can also be used in auditoriums, theaters, and other large, wide-open spaces. For those with some hearing impairment, they are a good option to consider.
All of these devices are designed to make it easier for you to hear, helping you to continue with a normal, healthy life despite any hearing impairment or loss. If you are worried about life after presbycusis, it’s a good idea to visit an audiologist to find the right solution for you.
You may be thinking, “Well, it’s good to know I can treat the problem, but is there any way to prevent it?” Sadly, the answer is no. Age-related hearing loss is a permanent problem, one that is very difficult to prevent.
There are only a few things you can do to reduce your risk of presbycusis as you grow older, such as:
Keeping your ears clean
Cleaning your ears can help to reduce infections and eliminate excessive ear wax build up, preventing clogs and impacted ear wax.
The Oto-Tip is a viable at-home ear cleaning method that will help you to safely and quickly remove excess ear wax.
Protecting your ears
Loud sounds can speed up the hearing impairment or loss, so it’s vital that you wear headphones or earplugs when in loud environments.
Reduce your exposure to loud sounds, protect your ears from infection, and protect your ears as much as possible.
Living a healthy life
As you saw above, presbycusis can be the result of a number of health conditions. If you want to keep your ears working well for as long as possible, it’s in your best interest to stay healthy.
That means eating a balanced, low-calorie diet, exercising regularly, avoiding unhealthy lifestyle choice (like smoking or excessive drinking), and reducing stress. All of these things will help to ensure that your body works as well as possible for as long as possible.
While there may not be much you can do to prevent age-related hearing loss, it doesn’t have to ruin your life! Modern science has advanced to the point that you can have your hearing loss treated, making it possible to lead a full, happy life even if your hearing is impaired.