Hearing Loss Over 50
According to charity Action on Hearing Loss, there are well over 10 million impaired hearing individuals in the UK. The overwhelming majority are the over 65s but a substantial group are between 50 and 65. It is estimated that hearing loss affects 40% of the over 50s. Left unaddressed, hearing loss can bring about reduced quality of life, social isolation and associated behavioral changes.
How Does Hearing Loss Happen
There are three common reasons why hearing loss can occur. The first is called conductive hearing loss, where sound waves are prevented in some way from entering the inner ear. The most common example of a conductive hearing loss would be a build-up of earwax. Noise-induced hearing loss is another common reason for hearing loss, which is caused by prolonged exposure to harmful levels/volume of sound. The third common reason is the natural aging process. Noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss are both examples of sensori-neural hearing loss, where the problem lies in the inner ear or cochlea or the hearing nerve pathway. Sensori-neural hearing loss, and specifically age-related hearing loss is the subject of this article.
Age Related Hearing Loss
Our inner ears (referred to as the cochlea) are lined with around 15,000 microscopic haircells (divided into inner and outer hair cells) that help to transmit information contained within the sound vibrations sent from the middle ear into nerve pulses which are then sent to the brain to make sense of. As we mature, the functioning of hair cells can diminish, resulting in an ever increasing inability to hear certain sounds. The body is unable to reproduce new hair cells and therefore hearing ability can continue to decline the older the body gets. Age related hearing loss accounts for 90% of permanent hearing losses in the UK.
Common Symptoms of Age Related Hearing Loss
Because the decline in hearing ability takes place over many years, it usually takes time before the individual notices its effects. Often it is the individual’s friends and family who draw their attention to this new reality.
Common symptoms include:
• Difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in group situations where there is background noise
• Asking people to repeat themselves.
• Listening to music or watching television with the volume higher than what other people require
• Difficulty hearing the telephone or doorbell.
• Finding it difficult to tell which direction noise is coming from.
• Regularly feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening.
• Finding that people appear to mumble a lot
Managing Hearing Loss
Age related hearing loss cannot be ‘cured’ but it can and should be managed. Any management program aims to reduce the effect of hearing impairment has on a day-by-day basis thereby enabling the person to retain their quality of life.
You would normally start by talking to your GP or other healthcare provider. After a number of questions about your lifestyle and history, a physical ear examination will take place. The examination aims to eliminate any medical problems such as infections or blockages such as wax. Following this you will likely attend a hearing test. The test will evaluate the sensitivity of your sense of hearing at different frequencies. Once hearing loss levels are determined, you may be presented with solutions such as hearing aids, TV aids, extra loud phones and other assistive listening devices to help you manage the condition.
Ask yourself: Do you struggle to hear the phone? Do you turn up the TV volume much louder than other family members? Are you having difficulty following conversations? If you answer yes, it might be a good idea to have your hearing checked.
Information by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for Hearing Direct a company that offers assistive listening devices.