Hearing loss and ageing

The familiar voices of family & friends or the everyday sounds start sounding muffled; Conversations over the phone or at a social gathering start getting harder to understand; while watching television with family, the volume seems to be inadequate; sounds very frustrating isn’t it? This is not just a hypothetical scenario, but a harsh reality that almost around 500 million elderly people are living with globally!

Presbyacusis or the age related hearing loss, is a type of progressive hearing loss that occurs due to changes in our ears with increasing age. The hearing loss may start becoming noticeable by the age of 6o and progresses gradually. With the increasing global population and the rise in the proportion of older age group, the incidence of presbyacusis is increasing.Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness and non-acceptance or social embarrassment, most of these people do not seek medical help in time; hence they continue to live in the uncomfortable silence and isolation.

Identifying presbyacusis

People with presbyacusis initially may notice muffling of sounds, mostly the high pitched sounds. Phone conversations or watching television at volumes comfortable to others become increasingly difficult.

Gradually, understanding conversations becomes harder, mostly in a noisy environment or when many people are talking simultaneously. At times, words may be heardwrongly, leading to misunderstandings. This can be frustrating in a social setting at home or at work, leading to the person becoming isolated and socially withdrawn.

They may also notice a constant buzzing or ringing sounds in ears, known as Tinnitus.

Impact on general health

Hearing loss can also impact the safety of the person by not being able to respond to doorbells, vehicle horns, sirens or fire alarms. People with hearing loss are known to have higher risk of dizziness and falls.

Due to poor communication and social interactions, these individuals may become withdrawn leading to stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.

Studies report that older people with hearing loss have higher risk of cognitive decline, leading to poor memory, concentration and dementia.

Factors affecting the age related hearing loss

Multiple factors can impact on the severity and age of onset of hearing decline, which includes;

  • Family History of hearing loss.
  • Smoking habit.
  • Repeated/ prolonged exposure to high level noises.
  • Chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels etc.

Limiting the age related hearing decline

Though the hearing loss due to natural ageing process is unavoidable, there are certain precautions which could slow down or delay the process of decline.

  • Taking good care of diet and general health, by maintaining blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Avoiding exposure to excessive loud sounds, reducing increased usage of earphones.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Seeking medical attention at early stages.

Managing Presbyacusis

If the hearing loss is suspected, it is advisable to consult an ear doctor to rule out any potential causes for hearing loss like wax build up, infection or damage to eardrum.

Once this is ruled out, an audiogram or hearing test is done to identify the type and severity of hearing loss. Early detection and intervention can make a significant difference in the management of hearing loss.

Using hearing aids

We often witness a lot of hesitation and stigma among people about the usage of hearing aids. In fact, this is one of the commonest and most effective tool in managing hearing loss in elderly. The modern hearing aids, not only amplify the hearing, they also can suppress the background noises and make it easier to understand speech. Some hearing aids can also be programmed to mask the buzzing/ringing sounds (tinnitus masking). Though they cannot cure the condition, they can enable the person with hearing loss to continue to enjoy their daily activities and social interactions, as well as improving their safety.

Caring for a family member with hearing loss

When you speak to a person with hearing loss, make sure that:

  • you face them and make sure your face is not covered.
  • speak in a loud, clear voice, but don’t shout.
  • be clear with the word’s pronunciation.
  • you minimize the background noise (e.g., by turning off the television or radio).
  • Encourage them to get a hearing evaluation and support them in using a hearing device as required.

March 3rd, 2024, is the World Hearing day. The theme for this year is “Changing mindsets: Ear & hearing care for all. Let’s make it a reality.” Let us join hands in raising awareness about the impact of hearing loss, transforming the social perceptions, removing the stigma and making hearing care accessible and a reality for all.

Dr. Soumya Shetty
MS ENT, Salmiya Clinic


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