Hearing Loss Due to Aging

Presbycusis can be treated effectively with hearing aids. Banks photos/ Getty Images

Presbycusis, or hearing loss due to aging, occurs gradually and in both ears. Approximately one person in three over the age of 65 years has presbycusis and that incidence rises to one in two at the age of 75 years and older.

As the hearing loss occurs gradually, many people are not aware they are losing their hearing. Instead, they will note that “people mumble” or “talk too soft.” Family members and friends may note that they have to repeat themselves, speak loudly, or that the television set volume is uncomfortably loud.

Situations that tend to be more difficult for people with presbycusis include:

  • Hearing on the cell phone or telephone.
  • Problems hearing in background noise.
  • Following a conversation with two or more people.

What causes presbycusis?

Presbycusis is caused by natural aging-related changes in the inner ear. Some contributing factors include the cumulative effect of a lifetime of noise exposure (occupational or recreational), hereditary factors, history of using medications that impact hearing, and other health conditions associated with age that impact hearing (such as diabetes and high blood pressure). For many people, a combination of factors contributes to presbycusis.

What type of treatment is available?

There is no cure for presbycusis, so treatment focuses on addressing the symptoms. Hearing aids are often used to amplify sounds that are not audible. There are many styles and options associated with hearing aids; an audiologist can best evaluate the hearing loss and fit appropriate hearing aids to best compensate for presbycusis.

In some cases, assistive listening devices are recommended for use with hearing aids or instead of hearing aids. Examples of assistive listening devices include amplified telephones, TV headsets to allow the person with hearing loss to hear the television at a volume loud enough for them without disturbing others in the room, door knock or doorbell signalers, and alarm clocks that shake the bed.

Aural rehabilitation may be recommended to augment amplification. By teaching people with hearing loss to focus on strategies to be a good listener and speaker communication becomes more effective. Self-advocacy, conversational repair strategies, and auditory training are all part of aural rehabilitation.

Is there any research going on for presbycusis?

There is research underway that is focusing on the finding the underlying cause(s) of presbycusis. A main focus of that research looks at genetic abnormalities that may cause or predispose someone to develop presbyacusis.

Mitochondrial DNA mutations may lead to damage to the inner ear neural structures and anatomic changes that can affect hearing. Damaged mitochondrial DNA can also lead to a higher rate of cell death in the inner ear. Two specific mutations have been identified.

Other research is looking at nutritional causes, such as the relationship between high cholesterol and presbyacusis and on the use of stem cells to potentially reverse presbyacusis.

Sources

Presbycusis (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Retrieved August 31, 2015 from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/otolaryngology/presbycusis_85,P00463/

Age-related Hearing Loss (updated January 5, 2014). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved August 31, 2015 from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/Age-Related-Hearing-Loss.aspx#4

Kenworthy, OT (7/8/02). A Conversational Approach to Auditory Rehabilitation. Audiology Online. Retrieved August 31, 2015 from http://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/conversational-approach-to-aural-rehabilitation-1169

Olzowy B, Canis M, Hempel JM, et al. Effect of atorvastatin on progression of sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus in the elderly: results of a prospective, randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Otol Neurotol. 2007 Jun. 28(4):455-8.

Roland P (2/27/2014). Presbycusis Clinical Presentation. Medscape. Retrieved August 31, 2015 from http://reference.medscape.com/article/855989-clinical

Traynor, R.(10/25/2012).  Stem Cell Research in Hearing – Old Age Hearing Loss – Part III. Hearing Health and Technology Matters. Retrieved August 31, 2015 from http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearinginternational/2012/stem-cell-research-in-hearing-old-age-hearing-loss-part-iii/

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