There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including exposure to loud noise, existing medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease etc.), genetic history, and age. Age related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is a pervasive health concern that impacts millions of people. In fact, hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition that older adults experience.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the risk of hearing loss increases with age. Specifically, adults ages:
- 65 to 74: 25% have hearing loss
- 75 and older: 50% have disabling hearing loss
Though hearing loss is common, it is often underdiagnosed and untreated. Presbycusis typically happens gradually so it can take quite some time to notice. Unfortunately, people tend to seek treatment when the condition has significantly progressed.
The NIDCD estimates that, “among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (or 30 percent) have ever used them”. This highlights how widespread the lack of treatment is. Delaying treatment can profoundly worsen the impairment as well as contribute to the development of other medical conditions including dementia. It is critical to be aware of the symptoms in order to identify and address hearing loss as soon as you recognize it!
Causes & Symptoms
Age related hearing loss is most usually caused by changes that happen over the course of the aging process. These changes in the inner ear include changes to:
- the structures and/or blood flow in the inner ear
- damaged hair cells responsible for translating soundwaves for the brain to process
- impaired nerve endings
- existing medical conditions like diabetes
- poor circulation
There is a range of symptoms that hearing loss triggers, which can be experienced from mildly to profoundly. Hearing loss restricts one’s ability to absorb and process sound which can cause numerous symptoms including the following:
- Tinnitus which is a buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears
- Constantly increasing the volume on electronic devices (phone, tv, speaker etc.)
- Frequently asking others to speak loudly, slowly, and/or repeat themselves
- Difficulty following conversations as sounds are muffled
- Trouble hearing, particularly in environments with background noise
- Needing to move to quieter areas to have conversations
- Being able to hear better in one ear over the other
- Difficulty understanding speech over the phone
If untreated, the experience of these symptoms can drastically impact all aspects of one’s life.
Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss
Untreated hearing loss significantly strains communication which is a major way we navigate and make sense of the world. The symptoms of hearing loss make communication difficult to engage in, leading to:
- Fatigue: conversations require extra work and people with hearing loss may find themselves overextending themselves in trying to hear: reading mouths to distinguish words, studying nonverbal cues, asking to move to a quieter environment etc. Using increased energy to navigate a conversation can be draining and cause serious fatigue.
- Social withdrawal: engaging with others can feel like more work than pleasure and leave a person with hearing loss exhausted. This can lead to avoiding conversations and social interactions altogether. People may skip out on parties, events, and social environments which means spending less time with family and friends. Social withdrawal can create distance and tension in relationships and be difficult to deal with.
- Overall health decline: strained communication, fatigue, and social withdrawal can take a toll on one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. People participating less in activities results in the body and brain not being as energized. Additionally, isolation can contribute to depression, loneliness, anxiety etc.
It is crucial to address hearing loss to alleviate symptoms and their multifaceted impact.
Treating hearing loss is relatively simple! The first step is to schedule an appointment with our team to have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve an easy and noninvasive process that determines any impairment, the type, and degree of hearing loss you may be experiencing.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hearing loss. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear which can drastically improve your quality of life!