As we age, we begin to lose our hearing. Statistically, most adults begin to experience a decline in their hearing in their 30s or 40s. Age related hearing loss is also called Presbyacusis. Over 10 million people suffer from hearing loss in the UK. Out of this, 6.3 million people are 65 years and above while the remaining are of working age, 16 to 64. More than 40 percent of people in their 50s and 70 percent of people in their 70s have some form of hearing loss.
It is estimated that the number of people with hearing loss will rise to 14.5 million in the UK by the year 2031. As a person tasked with caring for an individual with possible hearing impairment, it is important to understand the causes of hearing loss, symptoms and what can be done to help manage the condition.
There are tiny hair cells inside the inner ear that carry sound waves and aid in hearing. These sound waves are changed to nerve signals, which are picked up by the brain where the messages are interpreted.
Hearing loss occurs when these tiny hairs are impaired or begin to die. Once damaged, these hair cells will not regrow. Therefore, hearing loss due to impaired hair cells is irreversible.
Note that there is no known direct cause for age-related hearing loss. Presbyacusis is most commonly caused by changes in the inner ear as a person ages. Research also indicates that the amount of exposure to loud noise, such as from music and frequent headphones use, and your genes can play a massive role.
Some contributing factors to age-related hearing loss include:
Exposure to loud noise and music
Genetics and family history (it can run in families)
Chronic conditions such as diabetes
Smoking – hearing loss is more common in smokers than in nonsmokers
Addressing age-related hearing loss at an early age
On an average, it takes about ten years for an individual to address hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss begins with the inability to hear high frequency sounds properly. For example, people with this problem may face difficulty hearing the highest frequency consonants such as f, k, p, s and t. In addition, people with age-related hearing loss may find women’s voices less clear than men’s. Voices may sound mumbled, you may not be able to hear a person properly in a noisy surrounding and you may experience headaches, dizziness and ringing in your ears. If you suspect your hearing is declining, see your GP as soon as possible to receive appropriate treatment. Alternatively, you can book a hearing test at your high street hearing centre.
Hearing loss can affect your professional and personal life. People with age-related hearing loss frequently ask people to repeat themselves and get frustrated for not being able to hear properly. Addressing the issue early can prevent further complications in your social life. You’ll be able to communicate better with friends, colleagues and family and improve your overall quality of life.
Relationship with cognitive disorders and social exclusion
In a study published in the medical journal Archives of Neurology, researchers from the John Hopkins School of Medicine studied the relationship between hearing loss and dementia. The study included 636 individuals of ages 39 to 90 and was carried out for 12 years. Researchers found that 9 percent of the participants developed dementia within this period and those with age-related hearing loss were at greater risk of this condition .
Hearing loss is also linked to isolation, depression and anxiety amongst adults. However, most of these psychological disorders are reversible and can be rehabilitated individually .
Course of action
If you suspect you may have age-related hearing loss, see a health care provider. Your GP will do a complete physical exam first to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be linked to hearing loss. This will be followed by an examination of the ears using an instrument called an otoscope. In some cases, earwax may block ear canals and cause poor hearing.
Your GP will then refer you to a hearing specialist who will conduct some hearing tests to find out the extent of your hearing loss.
Even though complications associated with hearing loss such as depression and anxiety are manageable with appropriate treatment methods, age-related hearing loss isn’t a reversible condition. The objective of treatment is to improve your everyday lifestyle. Your healthcare provider may recommend using the following:
Speech reading in cases of profound hearing loss – this will help you read lips and use visual cues for better understanding during communication
Sign language if you suffer from severe hearing loss
Cochlear implants if you have severe hearing loss
There is no reason to let hearing loss affect quality of life. Take action today if you feel your hearing is impaired or the hearing of someone you care for.
Written by hearing superstore HearingDirect.
Lin FR, Metter EJ, O’Brien RJet al. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Archives of Neurology 2011; 68: 214-220
Gates GA,Mills JH. Presbyacusis. 2005 Sep 24-30;366(9491):1111-20.
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