Presbycusis or Age Related Hearing Loss

A smiling couple with hearing loss.

A smiling couple with hearing loss.

A significant portion of people living in America today have some difficulty hearing and understanding speech. As we age, our chances of experiencing permanent, progressive hearing loss increase with up to 50% of people over the age of 75 having some form of loss.

This type of hearing loss is known as presbycusis or more commonly as “Age Related Hearing Loss”. There is no single cause for this condition, it develops over a lifetime of noise exposure and is present to some degree in all people. Unless you’ve been in particularly unusual listening environments for extended amounts of time, presbycusis will affect both ears in a similar manner. This type of sensorineural hearing loss is not reversible and can have a significant impact on quality of life.

Personal Connection to Hearing Loss

Many people do not wish to admit to themselves that they are having difficulty hearing. This has the biggest effect on the nation’s widespread hearing loss epidemic, as it pushes the problem to the backburner. Here are some extremely common reasons people give for not wanting to seek treatment for their hearing loss, paired with a rebuttal that represents reality.

Complaint: Everyone else is mumbling and not speaking clearly.

The truth: Very few people mumble regularly and those who do often have a speech impediment and should seek professional help as it can likely be adjusted. If you are noticing a person who never mumbled before that you believe is mumbling, more often than not the culprit is your ability to hear and understand.

Complaint: Hearing Aids make people look old, I would only use one if it were invisible.

The truth: Not being able to hear others well is a much stronger indicator of old age than using state of the art technology. Invisible options do exist, but they are often a bit more expensive than more common models. The only people who typically notice hearing aids are audiologists, doctors, and your loved ones, as the general public are not in regular practice of looking for them.

Complaint: Hearing Aids are much too expensive for my budget.

The truth: While healthcare costs are high, hearing aids are very easily financed if budget is a problem. Many models are very affordable, and a portion of the cost isn’t in the device itself, but in the bundled service that comes with it.  

Hearing Loss Next Steps

The consequences of not treating hearing loss are extensive. Untreated hearing loss compounds on itself, resulting in progressively worse understanding over time. The following activities are made much more difficult by the inability to hear well.

  • Watching movies or television
  • Having conversations with friends and loved ones
  • Operating a motor vehicle such as a car, truck, or tractor
  • Going out to eat at restaurants
  • Enjoying music or concerts
  • Running a business
  • Talking on the phone

If untreated hearing loss stopped there, that alone would be bad enough, however this is not the case. Hearing loss can cause depression, it can separate you from your family, and it can limit your favorite activities. To successfully remain independent, your ability to interact with your environment using your body must maintain a certain level, or you become at risk to harm.

The best path forward is generally to work with a qualified hearing professional, usually an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Many providers around the country offer free hearing tests or consultations, making it very simple to learn how well you are hearing. It is important to take the initiative and not ignore this issue, before it is too late. Your maximum ability to hear weakens as hearing loss progresses, and if it disappears entirely no device will be able to help you to understand.

A happy family with parents, grandparents, and grandchildren.

A happy family with parents, grandparents, and grandchildren.

For friends and family members who want to help a loved one with their hearing loss, there are many ways to chip in. It is important to speak clearly, slowly, and to make eye contact when talking to increase your chances of being understood. Body language is important for communication, and many people with hearing loss read lips to aid in understanding. Also, many people with hearing loss will not take action unless prompted by another, so do not wait and subject them to more permanent and irreversible damage. Communication is at least a two way street, and people that are suffering need help from everyone in their life to enjoy their hearing properly. 

This is a guest article and was posted by ASI Audiology & Hearing Instruments, an audiology practice with 16 locations in Iowa (Major locations include West Des Moines, Red Oak, Council Bluffs, and Creston) specializing in hearing aids, tests for hearing loss, and hearing protection.

Last Updated: 9/21/2016