Age Related Hearing Loss

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Hearing loss is thought to affect the lives of over 35 million Americans and projections now estimate this number to grow to 40 million by the year 2025. These figures have been collected then analyzed in Kochkin’s 2008 survey (MarkeTrak VIII) which included 80,000 members of the National Family Opinion (NFO) panel. The overwhelming cause of hearing loss amongst the 35 million hard of hearing is linked to age-related reasons and noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Contrary to common belief age-related hearing loss (presbyacusis to use its medical term) is not exclusive to seniors. Early signs can be seen in younger individuals, in some cases from the age of 40 years old. The gradual deterioration in hearing over years makes this type of hearing loss perhaps easy to ignore until the effects are very noticeable at an older age. Large parts of the senior population may experience hearing loss, the degree of which will vary from one person to the next depending on a number of factors. These include family history, exposure to noise during the years, life style choices and overall health. It means that in some cases the condition is life changing, in others just an inconvenience.

How Does Age-Related Hearing Loss Happen?

In order to hear a number of parts within the ear work in complete harmony. In a nutshell these work on the basis of capturing triggers (sound waves) and transferring the information for the brain assimilate.

There are three main areas of the human hearing system: the outer ear that can be seen alongside the ear canal; the middle ear and finally the inner ear where sound is processed and transmitted to the auditory cortex in the brain for interpretation. Each of these three areas can be affected in different ways and contribute to a hearing loss.

In the case of presbyacusis, hearing loss occurs due to deterioration in quality of thousands of tiny ‘hair cells’ that are found within the inner ear. These are tasked with capturing waves of sound and due to the natural process of aging whither in quality over time. Once the process begins they cannot regrow and as such age-related hearing loss is irreversible. It does not mean however that it cannot be managed.

What Are The Signs Of Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Usually it will affect both ears to a similar degree, however because the process is gradual and occurs slowly over time it is sometimes tricky to notice the difference. Overall, it is most difficult to hear high-frequency sounds, such as someone talking (particularly small children and women’s voices). As hearing loss develops, it may become difficult to hear sounds at lower pitches. Common symptoms include:

• A growing difficulty to hear in a noisy environment
• High-pitched sounds such as “s” or “th” are hard to distinguish from one another
• Certain sounds seem overly loud

Hearing loss that is left unmanaged can lead to other well-documented issues including social exclusion and reduced interaction with others, feelings of anxiety, worry or even depression; all contributing to diminished quality of life. It should never be accepted as a condition that someone has to just live with.

What Are Your Options?

As with any medical condition, your first point of call is to seek medical diagnosis from a health provider. In this case it will take the shape of a hearing test. The test will normally take the shape of pure tone based test and may include a speech-in-noise check that uses different types of background noise. A hearing test is available to book from your local hearing center and from your family doctor (in its basic form). Once the precise cause and level of hearing loss is determined you will be offered a number of options that work on the principal of managing the condition using modern digital means.

The most common are hearing aids, a group of microcomputers that fit inside or outside the wearer’s ear and are tasked with amplifying external sound. Another group comprise of daily devices that have been adopted for use by the hard of hearing. Examples include amplified phones as well as cell phones, amplified alarms and aids designed to amplify the sound of a TV unit. Relief often comes from using a number of aids as each is slightly better suited for a particular situation.

About the author:

Guest article written for Aging Parent Rescue by Hearing Direct. UK based company of hard of hearing products. You can follow Hearing Direct on twitter or join on Facebook.

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