Aging and hearing loss: what getting older means for you Skip to Main Content

How Does Hearing Decline with Age?

Reviewer: Lisa Thomas, AuD
– 5.5 minute read

As with vision, dexterity and strength, age often means a loss of skills over time. Like it or not, despite our best efforts, anyone’s ears can decline over time. Although a rock band singer who has spent decades in loud bars and arenas has more exposure to noise, and may expect to lose hearing, even a librarian who has spent a lifetime in quiet environments may need hearing aids after decades of natural “wear and tear.”

Different Types of Hearing Loss

There are generally three basic types of hearing loss. Hearing loss caused by the natural aging process falls under sensorineural hearing loss. There are many things that can contribute to sensorineural hearing loss, such as damage to the cilia (the hairs of the inner ear) from a foreign object (such as a cotton swab), exposure to loud noise like an explosion or gradual deterioration over time, as in aging.

Children may be born with congenital hearing loss, either with an abnormality of the ear or another genetic issue. A person of any age can have conductive hearing loss. This is caused by a blockage and may be reversed (depending on the blockage and if there is permanent damage).

Unfortunately, sensorineural, or nerve-related, hearing loss is almost always permanent. Fortunately, it is also usually treatable with hearing aids.

Aging and Hearing Loss

As we age, the cilia (tiny hairs) of our inner ears tend to get damaged over time. Like with developing nearsightedness, many people notice the changes in mid-life. However, hearing loss can impact younger people as well, especially if you work in a noisy profession. Some jobs expose workers to noise where you expect it, such as working in a factory, in an airport or a garage. Other jobs, such as being a school teacher or working in a bar/restaurant aren’t as obvious. A Swedish study showed that preschool teachers have a high rate of hearing loss compared to controls. 

Over time, basic exposure to sound damages the cilia, causing hearing loss. You don’t have to have worked in a loud environment, either. Even people who live in quiet environments, far away from traffic, bars or other noisy places can develop hearing loss. Hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process.

Why Worry About Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss among the elderly may be considered ‘normal,’ but did you know that hearing loss has been linked to other health problems? Left untreated, retirees often find themselves socially isolated, as they can’t take part in normal conversations or feel left out. This can lead to depression or anxiety. Hearing loss may occur after a stroke, or after taking certain medications and people with certain cardiovascular disorders may be more at risk of hearing loss.

Can Tearing Loss Help Prevent Dementia?

In fact, it can! Recent research has shown that untreated hearing loss is a preventable risk factor for dementia! There are multiple studies showing links between cognitive decline and hearing loss. There may be several reasons why this is the case. It could be that hearing stimulates the brain’s aural nerves and promotes brain activity. It could also be that hearing loss leads to social isolation and that by not interacting with others, dementia can be exasperated. Even in government information on Alzheimer’s disease, treating hearing loss is among the ways you can prevent this devastating illness. Of course, treating hearing loss won’t completely eliminate your risk of dementia, but it can help.

Good News: Not All Older People Have Hearing Loss

Although more than half of seniors have hearing loss, not everyone ‘loses their hearing’ enough to need treatment. If you do have treatable hearing loss, it is important to address it early. Even for younger people, it takes time to get used to wearing hearing aids. If you do have hearing loss (or a family member or friend claims you do), it is good to get your hearing checked by a licensed and experienced professional. (But we have an online hearing test, if you are curious). That way you know what is treatable and can understand what type of hearing loss you may have so you can treat it accordingly.

Not Your Grandma’s Hearing Aids

Today’s retirees are active and their quality of life is very important. That’s why current hearing aids are designed to enhance life. They are mini computers for your ears and can make your life much easier. They aren’t your grandmother’s clunky (and ugly) models. They are slick and designed to be both comfortable to wear and come in many colors to either stand out as a cool device or be subtle tucked in or behind your ear. Remember that unlike with “cheater” reading glasses, you can damage your hearing worse by wearing devices that aren’t programmed specifically for you.

Treating Hearing Loss Helps the Whole Family!

Hearing loss is considered a social issue. Anyone who lives with someone with untreated hearing loss knows the frustration of having to repeat information or being misunderstood. It is unpleasant for a person with ‘normal’ hearing levels to watch TV with someone who has the volume blasting so they can hear. Today’s hearing aids can be wirelessly connected to the TV (and many other devices, even certain doorbells) so that sounds stream directly into the aids, making it possible for people watching TV next to them to listen at a softer level (which can help prevent damage to their ears).

By treating hearing loss, it is much easier to enjoy conversations! Many devices are specially programmed to weed out background noise so that the listener can focus on speech. It’s really a gift for the whole family when a loved one treats their hearing loss.

Book an Appointment for You or Your Loved One

There is no shame in needing help with your hearing. Our compassionate and experienced professionals work with people of all ages to provide comprehensive testing, state of the art fittings and sound re-training. Make a no obligation appointment today.

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