Health Break | Published May 5, 2008 | Written by Kelly Cormel

Recognizing Age-Related Hearing Changes

Age related changes in hearing is called presbycusis. This change in hearing ability can be caused by accumulated exposure to noise, genetics, drug exposure, diet and metabolism. This type of hearing loss is usually detected with increases in age. Research has found a decrease in the ability to hear higher pitched sounds with increasing age. It has been estimated that 40% of individuals over the age of 60 have a hearing loss, great enough to cause communication problems.

Much of hearing loss caused by noise can be prevented. Awareness of potential sources of loud noises can also help. Ear plugs and avoidance of loud everyday noise at home and work can reduce the damage to hearing.

If you think you or a loved one may have presbycusis, look for the following characteristics. These include impaired localization abilities, decreased hearing sensitivity and speech understanding in noise and a slowing in the speed of central processing of auditory input. Individuals with this type of impairment typically experience difficulty in these situations depending on the severity of their hearing loss. Difficulty can be encountered with conversations, music listening, social events and warning devices.

Individuals with presbycusis will begin to notice the effects of their hearing loss while completing their daily routines; they will notice a reduced ability to understand speech. The most common complaint reported by individuals with presbycusis is, they can hear speech but they can't understand it, making social situations uncomfortable. As the hearing loss progresses the individual may begin to experience difficulty detecting and localizing to sound. Typically the loss begins in the high frequencies causing the patient to have the most difficulty understanding speech in noisy or reverberant rooms.

But there is good news and many ways to deal with presbycusis. Hearing aids may work for some people with this type of hearing loss. Assistive listening devices may help for some situations in increasing hearing ability. These include built-in telephone amplifiers and FM systems that deliver sound waves like a radio. There are also learned visual speech cues that can help those with hearing loss determine what is being said in a conversation.

If you think you or a loved one has a hearing loss, consult your physician or call Mount Nittany Medical Center for a hearing screening. Through the month of May, Mount Nittany Medical Center's audiology department is offering free hearing screenings every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 234.6106 to schedule your appointment.

Kelly Cormel, audiology department at Mount Nittany Medical Center.