Understanding Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the three types of hearing loss. With this form of hearing loss, the inner ear hair cells are damaged and thus no longer properly send neural signals to the brain to be processed as sound. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is one of the forms of sensorineural hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss, due to exposure to excessive noise, is the other common form of sensorineural hearing loss. While noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, presbycusis occurs naturally and gradually as we age. In the US, one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 experience some degree of hearing loss. For people over the age of 75, 50% have a hearing loss. For people age 85 or older, 80% experience some degree of hearing loss. With presbycusis, people usually experience hearing loss in both ears (bilateral hearing loss) and because it occurs gradually, people do not often recognize that they are experiencing hearing loss.
Age-Related Hearing Loss is Often Undiagnosed & UndertreatedAccording to audiologist Renee Monahan in Today’s Geriatric Medicine, age-related hearing loss is undiagnosed and undertreated in the United States. Given the high percentage of Americans age 65 and older that experience hearing loss, “primary care physicians routinely screen only about 12.9% of the total US population for hearing loss.” Dr. Justin Golub, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, says, “It’s a fact of aging that even baby boomers will face hearing loss. Yet, fewer than 1 in 5 people will treat age-related hearing loss. This statistic has not changed in over 40 years.”
Consequences of Untreated Hearing LossIn the study, “The Impact of Hearing Loss on Quality of Life in Older Adults” from The Gerontologist (2003), researchers analyzed data on people between 53 and 97 years old. They found that the “severity of hearing loss was significantly associated with having a hearing handicap and with self-reported communication difficulties.” Furthermore, they found that the “severity of hearing loss was significantly associated with decreased function in both the Mental Component Summary score and the Physical Component summary score.” In other words, untreated hearing loss makes speech recognition and communication difficult, and it also affects our cognitive and physical abilities. If hearing loss is left untreated for a long period of time, it could bring significant negative consequences to one’s overall health and well-being. Untreated hearing loss affects our earning power in the workplace, causes rifts in our interpersonal relationships, and puts our physical safety at risk. Studies have shown that hearing loss is linked to an increased rate of falls and hospitalization. Other studies have shown that untreated hearing loss creates a heavier workload for your cognitive abilities, which could put you at risk for developing dementia.
Acknowledging the Signs of Hearing LossTo combat the consequences of hearing loss, it is important to first notice the signs of hearing loss. Because it is an invisible condition, we may not notice hearing loss immediately, nor will we think of it as an underlying problem that affects different areas of our lives. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), if you answer yes to the following, you may be experiencing a hearing loss. Do you:
- Often ask people to repeat what they say?
- Have trouble hearing in groups?
- Think others mumble?
- Fail to hear someone talking from behind you?
- Turn up the volume on the TV or car radio?
- Have difficulty on the phone?
- Have trouble hearing your alarm clock?
- Have difficulty hearing at the movies
- Dread going to noisy parties and restaurants?