Although it’s not inevitable, as we age hearing loss is very common. One of the culprits is presbycusis, which is estimated to appear in 30 to 40 percent of those over the age of 65. It’s a natural part of the aging process.
Because it’s a gradual process, presbycusis is not something that is always noticed immediately. Initially, it inhibits the ability to hear sounds at the high end of the sound spectrum. Gradually, its effects move down the scale and interfere with hearing sounds at lower frequencies as well.
It’s not a matter of volume. People with presbycusis can “hear” sound — but especially in the case of listening to other people speak they can’t hear specific “sounds” clearly. It’s as if everyone has gotten a bad case of the mumbles, with the /s/ and /th/ sounds often being the first to go. Conversations, especially in surroundings with lots of other ambient noise in the background, become a challenge.
Several factors can cause presbycusis, with the most common being the cochlea — one of the most important parts of the inner ear — losing nerve hair cells (yea, sort of like going bald inside your head too). Some other health conditions — and some medications — can also cause presbycusis.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably time for a hearing test with a hearing professional. This kind of test will discover which specific frequencies are at issue and provide the baseline on which to decide on treatment options, including possibly the use of a hearing aid.