Age-related hearing loss


Age-related hearing loss (presbyacusis)


What is presbyacusis?

Presbyacusis is the gradual loss of hearing that occurs as people age. It is a common disorder occurring in about 25% of people ages 65-75 years of age and in 50% of those over 75 years. Presbyacusis is the most common hearing problem in older people.

Presbyacusis is an ongoing loss of hearing linked to changes in the inner ear. People with this kind of hearing loss may have a hard time hearing what others are saying or may be unable to stand loud sounds.

What causes presbyacusis?

There may be many causes for presbyacusis, but it most commonly occurs because of age-related changes in the following locations:

Other factors contributing to presbyacusis include excessive noise over a prolonged period, loss of sensory receptors in the ear, hereditary factors, poor health and side effects of medication.

What symptoms should I look out for?

  • Sufferer has difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are participating.
  • Tinnitus may occur in one or both ears.
  • It becomes a strain to understand a conversation.
  • Some sounds seem excessively loud and annoying.
  • Background noise interferes with their ability to hear.
  • Speech in others seems mumbled.
  • Men's voices are easier to hear than women's.

Is this difficult to diagnose?

Yes, because the majority of these people do not complain of deafness. It is usually their family members who recognise the problem first. Generally older people who cannot hear well become depressed or withdraw from others to avoid the frustration or embarrassment of not understanding what is being said.

What is the treatment for presbyacusis?

Special training, hearing aids, certain medicines, and surgery are some of the choices that could help people with hearing problems. The choice of therapy will depend on the patient's age, expectations and level of tolerance for the degree of disability.

How can I make life easier for a family member with presbycusis?

  • Ensure that they wear earplugs or special fluid-filled ear muffs if they work in a noisy environment, to prevent further damage.
  • If the person is living on their own, buy amplifying devices such as telephone amplifiers and door bells.
  • Use more facial expressions, hand gestures and body language when in their company.
  • Face the person and talk clearly.
  • Stand where there is good lighting especially on their face.
  • Speak clearly and slowly.
  • Be patient and relaxed, so as to encourage them to participate in conversations.
  • Include the hearing-impaired person in all discussions to reduce their feeling of isolation.
  • Help them choose a suitable hearing aid.
  • You can arrange for a social worker to assist you in relation to housing, education, social welfare, health and employment.

What does the future hold?

The disorder is progressive but a hearing aid helps to correct it to a degree.

Are there any other forms of age-related hearing loss?

Conductive hearing loss happens in some older people when the sounds that are carried from the eardrums (tympanic membranes) to the inner ear are blocked. The commonest cause of conductive deafness in older people is earwax. This is easily detected by inspection of the ear with a special examination torch called an auriscope. The problem is also easily remedied through the use of eardrops or syringing of the ear. Other causes of conductive deafness include fluid in the middle ear and middle ear infection.

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