We know that hearing loss is common among older people, but just how likely are you to have hearing loss as you age? Furthermore, what type of hearing loss is most common among seniors? A recent study has used population statistics to understand what kinds of hearing loss are most common among this group, as well as what can be done for the best treatment. Although hearing loss takes many forms, the most common type by far is in the high frequency range. Let’s take a closer look at the study, as well as what you can do to understand your hearing ability and get the treatment you need.
Hearing Loss and Seniors
As we age, our hearing is affected by two parallel processes. Age-related hearing loss, otherwise known as presbycusis, is the natural process of losing hearing ability over the years of life. Experts continue to explore the reasons that hearing ability degenerates in this way, but some of the causes include oxidative stress, inflammation, exposure to ototoxic chemicals, and exposure to noise. Experts consider noise-induced hearing loss to be a distinct type of hearing loss, but it also becomes more common as the years go by. With these basics in mind, how common is hearing loss among seniors? It turns out that half of people over the age of 60 have hearing loss, and about three quarters of people over the age of 70 do, as well. Though hearing loss is quite common among seniors, many of these people do not get the treatment they need. In general, only one in five people who could benefit from treatment for hearing loss actually get assistance.
High-Frequency Hearing Loss
Although hearing loss comes in many shapes and sizes, high-frequency loss is by far the most common. A recent study from Korea recruited a very large group of 16,799 participants to find out how hearing ability changed with time. They performed pure tone audiometry, a specific type of hearing test that uses different volumes and frequencies of sound. For those who were age 39 and younger in the study, the incidence of high-frequency hearing loss was quite low. However, as the age of participants increased, so did the likelihood of high-frequency hearing loss. Hearing loss was measured at different frequencies including 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, 3000 Hz, 4000 Hz and 6000 Hz. At each level, the researchers determined what percentage of participants had hearing loss according to age. For participants in their 60s, 42.7% had hearing loss at 3000 Hz, 54.3% at 4000 Hz, and 79.5% at 6000 Hz. For those who were in their 70s, 70.7% had hearing loss at 3000 Hz, 78.4% at 4000 Hz, and 93.2% at 6000 Hz. These numbers confirmed what had been discovered in prior studies.
Explaining Age-Related Hearing Loss
As the years go by, the ears are subjected to a constant inundation of sound from the world. Without the ability to “blink” our ears, that steady stream of sound pressure can be overwhelming, causing damage to the fragile aspects of the inner ear. Specifically, the tiny, hairlike organelles of the cochlea called stereocilia are sensitive to slight differences in sound pressure. That sensitivity makes them easily bent, broken, or otherwise damaged by too much sound or deprivation of oxygen in the bloodstream. Once those receptors have been broken, they do not regenerate on their own, so the years of life are correlated with higher rates of hearing loss.
Treatment for Presbycusis
What can you do if you have age-related hearing loss? Although the stereocilia can’t be repaired, they can be treated through the use of hearing aids. The first step is to determine which ranges of sound are most difficult to hear through a hearing test. With that diagnostic in hand, our hearing health professionals can recommend the right hearing aids to address your individual needs. If you are worried about high-frequency hearing loss, the first step is to get a hearing test. We will take the lead and make sure that you get the help you need in whatever frequency range is most difficult for you to hear and communicate.