22 February 2013

Guest Post: Age-Related Hearing Loss

Guest post about the causes, effects, and treatments of presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, from Gary Hill of the UK-based company Hearing Direct, Ltd:

As we mature, from around the age of 40 years old, our ability to hear gradually begins to diminish. This age-related hearing loss is especially evident in those over 65, for which hearing loss can make life--particularly social interaction-- difficult if left unmanaged. 

Age-related hearing loss is a condition that is far more common than people perhaps perceive. In the UK, Action on Hearing Loss, the national hard-of-hearing foundation, reports that of the UK’s population of 65 million, over 9 million are thought to present the signs of hearing loss, with the majority aged over 65. In the US, a government-backed survey from 2008 found that over 35 million American are thought to present the signs of hearing loss. Again the biggest group are the over 65s, in which age is the main contributor for the hearing impairment (Source: Sergei Kochkin PhD 2008 MarkeTrak VIII report).
Why Does Our Hearing Weaken As We Mature?
Sensory impairment due to aging is not relegated solely to hearing, and can often include deterioration in sight as well as in other senses. Due to the detrimental effect of free radicals in the human body, complex structures no longer function to their maximum capacity.
When we look at the precise causes that lead to diminished hearing due to age, it is apparent which parts of the inner ear no longer function well. A critical part of the sound journey culminates in the inner ear, where thousands of tiny “hair cells” fire signals via the hearing nerve fibers to the brain for interpretation. As we mature, the quality of these hair cells declines, and some of them die off. The result is not complete hearing loss, but more precisely an inability to hear certain frequencies.     
Common indicators of hearing loss due to aging include:

  • Sounds seem less clear
  • Not being able to hear the telephone or doorbell ring when others can
  • Other people may sound mumbled or slurred
  • Inability to hear high-pitched sounds such as "s" and "th"
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Having to have the television or radio turned up much higher than other family members
  • Feeling tired after participating in a conversation held within background noise

Can Hearing Loss Be Treated?
The answer to this question revolves around the precise source of the hearing impairment. Although we have discussed age-related inner hair cell degeneration here, other reasons do exist, so it's always best to consult first with your family doctor or local hearing specialist.
Hearing loss left unmanaged often causes one to avoid conversation, and an inability to hear friends, family and even your partner can lead to social exclusion in extreme cases.
In the case of age related hearing loss, treatment involves managing the hearing loss so that it affects day-by-day activities as little as possible. Because the hair cells cannot regrow, there is no cure; however, there are medical ways to minimize its effects. Your doctor or hearing specialist will be able to prescribe various devices, including hearing aids, amplified alerting devices, captioned or amplified telephones, FM loop systems, and other assistive technology that can make hearing and communication easier.

What Does The Future Hold?
While human inner ear hair cells cannot regrow or regenerate, inner hair cell regeneration does happen in some other species, including most birds. This leads scientists to suspect that using stem cell therapy, it will one day be possible to regrow human hair cells. Additionally, a recent study released a report that the resveratrol found in red wine might protect against age-related hearing loss. Cheers to that! _________________________________________________________________________
Written for Redeafined magazine by Gary Hill of UK-based Hearing Direct Ltd. If you have any concerns about your hearing or someone you care for, your family doctor or local hearing specialist is always the best source with which to consult.
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