Presbycusis, a gradual and progressive hearing loss that starts in midlife and continues to increase as years go by, is associated with the aging process. It usually occurs gradually and affects both ears equally. Presbycusis is most commonly associated with changes in the inner ear, typically involving the loss of some of the tiny receptor hair cells found in the snail-shaped cochlea.
About 30% of people over 60 have a hearing impairment, but about 33% of those 75 to 84, and about half of those over 85, have a hearing loss. Hearing loss affects the older person's ability to talk easily with others. For example, older people often have trouble hearing higher pitched tones. They also may not be able to make out sounds or words when there is background noise. Conversations may be difficult to hear, especially if the speaker has a high voice or there is background interference.
Older persons may be frustrated or embarrassed about not being able to understand what is being said. They may miss out on talks with friends and family. On the telephone, they may find it hard to hear what the caller is saying. At the doctor's office, they may not catch the doctor's words. They may have to ask people to repeat themselves, or endure shouting when a speaker tries to be heard. Older persons may hold back from conversation out of a fear of making inappropriate comments. They may tire from concentrating and straining to hear. As a result, the older person may withdraw from friends and family and outside activities.
Sometimes hearing problems can make them feel embarrassed, upset, and lonely. It's easy to withdraw when they can't follow a conversation at the dinner table or in a restaurant. It's also easy for friends and family to think they are confused, uncaring, or difficult, when the problem may be that they just can't hear well.
As hearing impairment is an essential part of the normal aging process, there is nothing wrong, embarrassing or fatal. That is a problem, but the problem, which can be resolved in most cases. If you have trouble hearing, you need to find assistance. Start by seeing your doctor. Depending on the type and extent of your hearing loss, there are many treatment choices that may help. Hearing loss does not have to get in the way of your ability to enjoy life.
A complete physical exam is performed to rule out medical conditions that can cause hearing loss. The health care provider will use an instrument called an otoscope to look in your ears. Sometimes, wax can block the ear canals and cause hearing loss.
You may be sent to an ear, nose, and throat doctor and a hearing specialist (audiologist). Hearing tests can help determine the extent of hearing loss.
How Do I Know if I Have a Hearing Loss?
See your doctor if you:
- Have trouble hearing over the telephone,
- Find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking,
- Social events such as parties, concerts, or watching television are less enjoyable because you can't hear as well,
- Need to turn up the TV volume so loud that others complain,
- Have a problem hearing because of background noise,
- Certain sounds seem loud or annoying.
- People do not seem to speak clearly-- it sounds as if they are mumbling,
- Other people, particularly women and children, are hard to understand,
- Another symptom is tinnitus, a ringing in the ears.
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