Age related hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss especially in the over 65s. While deteriorating hearing due to an aging system is an (unfortunate) natural process, factors such as family history of hearing loss, smoking, and certain medication, prolonged exposure to loud noise will have an impact on its rate of deterioration and resultant severity.

The human inner ear contains hair cells that help pick up information contained within sound waves. This information is then transmitted by way of the hearing nerve to the brain for further processing. As the body matures (or due to exposure to loud noise), hair cells can become damaged and/or die. The process can start as early as in a person’s 40s, but presents far more commonly in the over 65s and the over 70s. The body is unable to regenerate new hair cells, so there will eventually come a point when the person senses that their hearing isn’t what it used to be. (Although it is often friends and family members that notice the deterioration in hearing ability and alert the individual.)

There are common problems that the hard of hearing report; but how significant their impact on the person’s daily life will vary considerably across individuals.

Common symptoms include:

• Difficulty hearing people around you
• Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
• Frustration at not being able to hear
• Certain sounds seeming overly loud
• Problems hearing in noisy areas
• Problems telling apart certain sounds such as “s” or “th”
• More difficulty understanding people with higher-pitched voices
• Ringing in the ears

Loss of hearing and its likely cause can be established after attending a hearing test. The hearing exam or hearing test will cover a review of your medical history and a physical ear exam. If the hearing loss is age-related in nature, it is often managed through the use of hearing aids. There is no cure to undo the natural aging process that results in hair cell decline, so treatment should be viewed as a means to improve quality of life by managing the condition rather than curing it.

Those that willingly or unwillingly leave hearing loss unmanaged may face further longer term health complications, including depression, and perhaps surprisingly, cognitive and mental health decline.

There is a worrying link between hearing loss and dementia currently being explored. Recent research suggests that there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia. The hard of hearing are at a high risk of experiencing social isolation due to reduced communication with their immediate surroundings; and perhaps as a result of this, they are reportedly more likely to develop dementia.

An individual with hearing loss must concentrate harder to hear and often has to use lip reading and facial expressions to fill in the gaps as to what was said. After a while, this level of concentration can lead to fatigue and symptoms that mimic physical exhaustion. Some individuals may choose to simply avoid conversation, as it is too exhausting, thereby opening the door to social isolation.

If you have concerns about your hearing or the hearing of someone you care for, do arrange a simple and quick hearing test.

Information written by Joan McKechnie BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for UK based Hearing Direct. In addition to her role as one of the company’s audiologists, Joan helps maintain an information blog on hearing loss.