Presbycusis is defined as age-related hearing loss. It’s a progressive inability to hear high frequency sounds, an inability that becomes more pronounced as a person ages. With the Baby Boomers reaching their 60s and 70s now, there’s a sharp rise taking place in the number of people with this kind of hearing loss.
The #1 symptom of this kind of hearing loss is a difficulty understanding people when they’re talking, particularly in noisy environments. Presbycusis appears to have a strong genetic component, because it tends to occur in families. However, other factors that cause hearing loss may contribute to presbycusis, such as noise exposure, use of ototoxic medications, and diseases of the ear.
When you were born, you had about 29,000 hair cells in each ear. However, the number of hair cells begins to decline sometime between age 30 and age 40. The decline is very gradual, so that people rarely notice any hearing loss before about age 55.
That said, however, age-related hearing loss isn’t inevitable. Some people well into their 80s don’t have any discernible hearing loss, although they may show minor hearing loss on an audiogram.
Treatment of presbycusis
You can’t cure age-related hearing loss. What you can do is find treatments and learn to manage your hearing loss so that you minimize its impact on your life.
Hearing aids are the most common treatment for presbycusis. It’s important for these patients in particular to have properly fitted hearing aids if they’re to get the best use out of them. Older patients who may have arthritis or other age-related debilities may have a hard time learning to use hearing aids. In addition, hearing aids don’t solve all the problems associated with this kind of hearing loss; these patients still may have a hard time understanding what people are saying in noisy situations.
Patients who still have good vision can learn to lip read. This can be particularly helpful to patients who are using hearing aids but still have trouble in noisy environments.
Other amplifying instruments can help people with age-related hearing loss. These instruments include telephone amplifiers, and wireless headsets that pick up the television signal from across the room so the users can “turn up the volume” without disturbing other people. Some churches also have built-in amplifying devices in the pews for people with hearing loss.
Patients with very severe presbycusis may opt for cochlear implants. If the hearing loss you’re experiencing is a result of changes in the cochlea and the other parts of your ear are undamaged, you may be a good candidate for this surgery, but check with your doctor to see what he or she thinks before you make this decision.
The Bottom Line
Although a large portion of the older population suffer from some degree of presbycusis, developing this kind of hearing loss isn’t inevitable; there are other factors that enter into whether or not you develop age-related hearing loss.
If you do develop presbycusis, you’ll find that rehabilitation takes patience and time. You may need to work with a variety of specialists, including an ENT, an audiologist, and neurologist and a psychologist; each discipline brings a necessary part of therapy for presbycusis to the table.
Is age related hearing loss something you suffer from? Share your experience.