Age Related Hearing Loss

According to the Australian Department of Health, one in six Australians is currently affected by hearing loss and this figure is projected to grow to one in four by 2050. Prevalence rates for hearing loss show less than 1% of people under the age of 15 affected, but 75% of those over the age of 70. If you yourself suffer from impaired hearing or you care for someone with hearing loss, understanding the causes behind hearing loss can help in managing its impact and reduce frustration, depression and other well-documented psychological effects of unmanaged hearing loss.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of reasons, ranging from prolonged exposure to harmful noise levels (resulting in permanent sensorineural hearing loss) to temporary causes such as ear wax blockages. By far, the most common cause is linked to the natural ageing process. Age related hearing loss (presbyacusis) is a type of sensorineural hearing loss common in the over 65 to 75 years age group. Our inner ear contains sensitive cells known as hair cells. (Under a microscope they look like hairs). The hair cells help to collect information contained within incoming sound and transfer it via the nerve pathways to the brain for further processing. As the body matures, hair cells’ functioning can deteriorate or they can die. Hearing worsens as more and more hair cells are affected; as the body is unable to regenerate new hair cells. This process usually happens gradually over a number of years.

Symptoms Of Hearing Loss

An important attribute of age related hearing loss compared to other forms of hearing loss is how gradual the decline in hearing is. The process can start as early as a person’s mid 40s, but the effect of hair cell deterioration may only become noticeable many years later. Individuals with age-related hearing loss often report:

  • Problem hearing on the telephone or cell phone
  • Trouble hearing when there is noise in the background
  • Straining to follow a conversation when two or more people talk 
at the same time
  • People seem to mumble often (or not speaking clearly at you)
  • Having to ask people to repeat themselves

Some individuals, for various reasons, simply accept hearing loss and carry on without consulting any medical professionals. Hearing loss can place a huge strain on daily activities and quality of life. The effort taken to conduct a basic conversation can make it seem easier to simply avoid conversations in the first place. Fro there on, social withdrawal and isolation is a real concern.

Furthermore, recent studies, such as those published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, highlight that untreated hearing loss is an important factor to be aware of in the acceleration of dementia.

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Treating Hearing Loss

A healthcare provider should address any medical concern such as hearing loss. In this case, your doctor might be your first port of call, followed by a visit to your local hearing centre. Your doctor can perform a simple ear examination and review your medication history to rule out causes such as blockage, earwax, medication side effects. A hearing centre will assess your level of hearing (compared in decibels against normal hearing levels), categorize any hearing loss and discuss ways to manage its effects. Aids such as hearing aids won’t cure hearing loss (or make it worse); they are designed to make soft sounds louder and keep loud sounds comfortable to help capitalize on a person’s residual hearing.

Depending on the level of hearing loss (measured from mild to profound), other options might be offered. These include cochlear implants, assistive listening devices such as amplified phones and mobiles or even lip reading in certain cases.

Thank you for reading.


Information by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for Hearing Direct a company that offers assistive listening devices.