What are the Signs of Hearing Loss in the Elderly?

Reviewed by Dr. Porter on April 1, 2021

Older adults in the United States are seldom referred to audiologists for testing and treatment for hearing loss.

In a report published 2 March 2021, the National Poll on Healthy Aging reported that only 20% of healthy adults aged 50 to 80 had been asked by their primary care physicians in the last two years if they had hearing problems.

Among Americans aged 50 to 80 who rated their hearing as poor to fair, 26% had been asked by their physicians if they needed a referral to treatment. Only 23% had actually had a hearing exam in the past two years.

The most important sign of hearing loss

The most important sign of auditory loss, if you are over 50, is wondering whether you have an auditory loss. Testing is painless, simple, and often covered by insurance. The sooner you find out whether you have treatable hearing loss, the sooner your auditory specialists and doctors can intervene to keep it from becoming worse.

People over 50 who have hearing issues are more likely than those who don’t need to be hospitalized. Once they are out of the hospital, they are more likely to be re-hospitalized. They are more likely than average to develop depression and dementia. They have more problems maintaining friendships and family relationships.

Other common symptoms of age-related hearing loss

If you aren’t sure whether you may be suffering age-related heating problems, consider whether any of these presentations applies to you.

  • You have trouble understanding rapidly spoken language. When you encounter someone, who is excited and speaking fast, you can’t understand what they are saying. Even if you used to be fluent in a second or third language, you get lost unless the foreign language speaker slows down. Even though you have a good vocabulary, you get lost when people use complex terms in speech.
  • You have trouble hearing speech in a noisy environment. It’s like you hear everyone and everything in the room all at once. However, you don’t have trouble hearing and understanding when one person speaks at a time.
  • You understand men’s speech better than women’s. You can’t hear small children and agitated teenagers.
  • You have trouble telling where a sound is coming from.
  • You need to be looking at someone to understand what they are saying.
  • You have begun to withdraw from social occasions. You don’t get out as much as you used to even though you are physically able. You avoid meetings, concerts, plays, and parties, and you spend more time in front of your computer or your television.
  • You have ringing, clicking, buzzing, or humming sounds in your ears even when there’s nothing around you making them.

When auditory loss is related to aging and the cumulative effects of excessive exposure to noise, it usually affects both ears. Hearing loss that affects just one ear usually has some other origin, ranging from excessive ear wax to hardening of the bones in the inner ear that vibrate so you can sense sound.

The 2014 National Health Interview Survey reported that 43% of American adults over the age of 70 were aware of some degree of hearing loss. The figure for people who are at least 65 is 30%. Just one in 20 Americans under the age of 40 reported hearing issues. Hearing loss affects men and women, people of all races, and people of every national origin. It’s worst, however, for people who have worked around loud equipment, played in rock bands, or participated in shooting sports most of their lives.

age-related hearing loss

Is there an explanation for age-related hearing loss other than you’re getting old?

Actually, auditory loss doesn’t mean you’re old. It just tends to be progressive, getting worse over time. As we are always advising our patients at Harbor Audiology, it’s always best to get the treatment you need as soon as possible so you can keep as much of your hearing as possible.

Some of the progressive conditions that result in loss of hearing include:

  • Sensory presbycusis. (“Presbycusis” just refers to the fact that the loss of hearing gets worse with age.) This condition is caused by deterioration of the hair cells in a part of the ear known as the organ of Corti. The deterioration starts at the base of the organ and proceeds to its apex. As more and more sensory hairs become non-functional, it becomes harder and harder to hear high pitches. You are likely to lose your ability to hear high musical sounds before you lose your ability to hear high-pitched speech, because speech involves lower frequencies that music and some industrial sounds.
  • Neural presbycusis. This kind of age-related auditory loss occurs after nerve cells in the ear die. You won’t experience auditory loss until you have already lost 90% of the nerve cells in your ear. This kind of auditory loss doesn’t take away your ability to hear pitches, but it makes it difficult for you to follow complex patterns of sounds and fast speech.
  • Metabolic or strial presbycusis. This auditory condition begins earlier than the others, sometimes as soon as the age of 30 and almost always before 60. People with this kind of progressive hearing loss retain their ability to understand speech but lose their ability to hear low pitches.
  • Mechanical presbycusis. This form of auditory loss results from a thickening of the membrane in the cochlea, the spiral cavity in the inner ear. It causes a slow loss of the ability to hear high pitches.

Hearing loss can also be a long-term effect of diabetes, both type 1 and type 2. It can be caused by certain medications, especially certain antibiotics. And it is not unusual for age-related auditory loss to result from years of exposure to excessive intensity of sound.

The hearing specialists at Harbor Audiology can provide you the timely care you need to keep the most hearing possible. We can also help you with the latest auditory aids.

Our staff can help you with your questions about insurance, VA benefits and filing for workers compensation claims. Our offices are open most evenings and Saturdays. Harbor Audiology has offices in Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Sequim, Silverdale, Port Angeles, and Federal Way. Request your appointment online today!

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