Hearing loss is a common disorder associated with aging. About 30-35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 75 years have some hearing loss. As we age, that percentage increases until at 75, it is estimated that 40-50 percent of people have some hearing loss. The medical term for this gradual hearing loss is Presbycusis.
The hearing loss associated with Presbycusis does not encompass the full spectrum of sounds. For example, it may be difficult for someone to hear the nearby chirping of a bird or the ringing of a telephone. However, the same person may be able to hear clearly the low-pitched sound of a truck rumbling down the street.
The ear is comprised of three parts the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Presbycusis most commonly arises in the inner ear, but can occur as well in the middle ear or from changes in the nerves pathways leading to the brain. Typically, both ears experience the same degree of hearing loss, but it is possible that only one ear is affected.
As mentioned earlier, the onset is gradual so your symptoms may go unnoticed for years. Once noticed, these symptoms may include:
High-pitched sounds such as “s” and “th” are difficult to hear or tell apart.
The speech of others may seem mumbled or garbled.
Conversations may be difficult to follow, especially when there is background noise.
Male voices may be easier to hear than the higher pitched voices of women.
Certain sounds may seem annoying or overly loud.
Tinnitus (a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound in one or both ears) may also occur.
There are many strategies to help people with Presbycusis. Hearing aids may be recommended for some individuals. Assistive listening devices can provide further improvement in hearing ability in certain situations. One example of such a device is the built-in telephone amplifier. Another example is FM systems that can make sound clearer, with or without a hearing aid, by delivering sound waves like a radio. Training in speech reading (using visual cues to determine what is being spoken) can help those with Presbycusis to understand better what is being said in conversations or presentations.