Auditory System Hearing Disorders Presbycusis

What is presbycusis? Reduced hearing acuity, or decreased ability to hear sound, is a common experience for some people as they age. Hearing loss that is attributed to aging (in the absence of another cause) is known as “presbycusis.” According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, up to 35 percent of adults age 65-75 and up to 50 percent of people over the age of 75 experience some degree of age-related presbycusis hearing loss.

How Can I Recognize Presbycusis?

Symptoms of presbycusis may include:

  • Difficulty following conversation
  • Difficulty hearing in background noise
  • Difficulty hearing or differentiating high-pitched sounds (e.g. “s,” “sh,” and “f”)
  • Sense that others are mumbling
  • Tinnitus (a ringing or hissing in the ear).

Presbycusis Causes

Aging can lead to “wear and tear” on the components of the hearing mechanism.

  • Age-related reduction in function of the ossicles or tympanic membrane (eardrum) can lead to conductive hearing loss.
  • Chronic noise exposure and heredity can both add to your risk of developing presbycusis.
  • Reduced function of the inner ear structures, including the cochlea, can lead to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear are responsible for creating nerve impulses that send sound information to the brain. Damage to these hair cells leaves the ear unable to process the same range of sounds.

Both sensorineural and conductive losses can result in a sensation of muffled or decreased hearing.

Can Presbycusis be Prevented?

Because heritability and wear and tear on the hair cells contribute to presbycusis, it cannot be entirely prevented. However, noise exposure can increase your risk of hearing loss as you age.

Using hearing protection and avoiding long-term exposure to noise exceeding 85 decibels (dB) may help to reduce presbycusis risk. This can include noise at work (such as machinery) or at home (including leaf blowers and lawn mowers).

Some people may not realize their hearing acuity has declined over the years. To monitor hearing effectively, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends adults have hearing screening every decade, and every three years after age 50.

Presbycusis Treatment

Presbycusis cannot be cured or reversed. However, many individuals choose to treat presbycusis with an amplification device (usually a hearing aid).

Types of Hearing Aids - Hearing Disorders

Hearing aids consist of a small microphone that picks up environmental sound, and then amplifies it in accordance with your specific type of hearing loss. Amplified sound is then played through a speaker, and is funneled into the ear so it can be heard. Many styles of hearing aids are available, including behind-the-ear and in-the-ear. If you have a hearing loss and choose to get a hearing aid, your audiologist can help you to choose the one that will best suit your lifestyle.

Resources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Hearing assessment. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Web site: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/testing/assess.htm.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Hearing loss. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hearing-loss/DS00172.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (n.d.). Presbycusis. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Web site: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/presbycusis.asp.