Ageing and hearing loss: Everything you need to know

Oct 13, 2019
Almost 60 per cent of Aussies aged 61-70 have some form of hearing loss. Source: Getty (model posed for picture)

Almost 60 per cent of Aussies aged 61-70 have some form of hearing loss, and that rises to 74 per cent for people aged 71-plus.

Otherwise known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss is gradual, usually starts at about 50 years of age and most often it affects the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, such as a phone ringing or a beeping microwave.

Both ears are usually equally affected, with men often suffering worse deterioration than women. In fact, most men are expected to have some kind of hearing loss by the age of 65.

But because presbycusis occurs gradually – with deterioration happening at a rate of about 1 decibel a year, although cardiovascular conditions and diabetes can accelerate the changes –  you may not realise you have hearing loss. But some of the common symptoms may be familiar; they include asking people to repeat themselves, finding it hard to follow voices in a crowded room or restaurant, getting frequent complaints about the volume on the TV or radio and missing out on everyday sounds such as birdsong.

The cause of hearing loss

All of your senses tend to decline with age: hearing, vision, balance, sense of smell and taste. While the exact changes in your body are not completely understood, it’s believed that your hearing may worsen due to the gradual loss of hair cells and stiffening of membranes in the cochlea (inner ear). Genetic factors may also play a role.

The impacts of hearing loss

Hearing loss isn’t just isolating and frustrating to the person with the condition, but to their friends and family. If you’re the one with hearing loss, you may struggle in social situations, at work or when using the phone, which can be stressful and isolating. Feeling left out of conversations or getting annoyed because you can’t hear everyday sounds can leave you with a sense that life just isn’t easy or you may find yourself avoiding social events that you previously enjoyed.

Hearing loss can also make it more difficult to be independent, as you rely on your partner or other family members to repeat information to you in social situations or speak on your behalf.

That’s why hearing impairment has such an impact on mental health. Research shows that untreated hearing loss has a profound effect on a person’s mental state, affecting everything from temperament to perceived life satisfaction. People with hearing loss are 50 per cent more likely to experience depression, and a recent study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US found that hearing loss was associated with higher risk of subjective cognitive decline

The impact is exacerbated because the average person delays seeking treatment for their hearing loss for between seven and 10 years.

Treatments for hearing loss

If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment with your GP, who can then recommend an audiologist. Once diagnosed, there are many treatment options you can weigh up, including hearing aids and implantable hearing solutions such as a cochlear implant.

Advances in technology mean that high-performing hearing aids are no longer as expensive as they once were, with providers such as Australian company Blamey Saunders cutting the cost by offering hearing tests and fittings online.

The good new is, if you have a Pensioner Concession Card, certain Veterans Affairs cards, or receive Sickness Allowance from Centrelink, you are eligible for fully subsidised hearing services, including free hearing aids. Learn more here.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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Have you experienced hearing loss? Did it impact your mental health or relationships?

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