Ageing Process - A guide to Hearing Loss

This is the biggest cause of hearing loss in the UK especially in the over 60’s. According to the RNID ( more than half of all people over 60 have some form of hearing loss although the severity of this will vary between individuals.

Also known as presbyacusis, age-related hearing loss occurs in both ears and is basically, a gradual deterioration in the function of the ear.

It can be a result of a drop in the number of hair cells within the inner ear which help to transmit sound waves through the ear to the brain (conductive hearing loss). Or it can be a change in the transmission via the neural pathways of the brain (sensorineural hearing loss).

If you have worked in a noisy environment for most of your life or have been exposed to excessive noise/music levels over a long period of time then this will damage hair cells within the inner ear.

This means that they are unable to perform their normal function of transmitting sounds to the brain which then leads to permanent hearing loss.

For more information about noise-related hearing loss then visit our music and/or workplace noise sections.

Another factor is that of hereditary: if your parents or grandparents suffered from age-related hearing loss in their sixties then you will probably do the same.

Your lifestyle can also be a trigger for hearing loss. If you are taking any prescription medicines such as antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory and have been for some time then be aware that one of their side effects is hearing loss. Sometimes this is temporary situation and hearing returns once you stop taking the drug but in other cases it can be permanent.

This is discussed in greater detail in our Medicines section.

Unfortunately age-related hearing loss cannot be ‘cured’ but it can be treated by means of a hearing aid or one of a range of assistive devices such as amplified telephones, a loop system, a doorbell or alarm with a flashing light and a television listening device.

Find out more about the different types of hearing aids in our hearing loss treatments section. In some cases your hearing may have declined to the extent that you need to learn how to lip read. There are classes available and these can be invaluable in preventing feelings of loneliness and isolation which many suffers experience.

So what will you (or other people) notice in respect of your hearing loss?

Signs of age-related hearing loss

The following are indicators of hearing loss:

  • Finding it hard to keep up with a conversation, particularly in a noisy area. And becoming tired from trying to do so.
  • Other people appear to be mumbling rather than speaking clearly.
  • Having to ask people to repeat things or you find yourself saying ‘pardon?’ on a regular basis.
  • Turning up the volume of the television or radio. Your family may comment on the fact that you have these turned up and that they are too loud for comfort.
  • Finding it difficult to hear on the phone.
  • Unable to hear women’s and children’s voices clearly but able to hear men’s voices. This is because the male voice is lower in pitch which is easier for hair cells within the inner ear to deal with rather than the high pitched voices of women and children.

As your hearing continue to decline then you will find it increasingly difficult to understand what people are saying. The problem with this is that you can, understandably, opt out of conversations because of the effort required to join in. And this leads to a gradual withdrawal from social situations in general which then results in isolation and depression. It is frustrating on both levels: there is the frustration experienced by you when trying to listen to a conversation and understand what is being said. And there is the irritation of others who become exasperated at having to repeat things or to explain the gist of a conversation.

We can argue that people should be tolerant but in our hectic, busy lives this is not always the case. And people are only human after all. It is easy to forget that someone is having difficulty hearing something especially if you don’t have a problem with your hearing.

But, ageing is something that happens to all of us so it’s a case of accepting that this will happen and dealing with it when it does. And it’s the coming to terms with it that can be the hardest part. Some people will bury their head in the sand and deny that there is a problem; others will become defensive and retreat into themselves but some people will recognise that there is a problem and seek help.

If you know of someone who has experienced this type of hearing loss or you are in this position then please ask for help. It may seem embarrassing but this is a very common aspect of getting older which can be treated.

This type of hearing loss tends to settle down by the age of 70 with no further deterioration. That may not sound like much consolation but you can adapt to hearing loss and still maintain a good quality of life.

Hearing Loss

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