Elderly man with a hearing aid

What is Presbycusis, or Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Around 54% of Australians aged between 61 and 70 experience some form of hearing loss, increasing to 74% in people aged 71 and over. 

In most cases, this happens naturally. Like the rest of the body, the delicate structures of the inner ear start to break down in later life after a lifetime of use. 

Presbycusis is the medical name for this variety of age-related hearing loss. It’s an irreversible condition, but one that doesn’t have to hold you back due to advances in modern hearing technology. 

Here’s what you need to know about its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

What causes presbycusis?

In most people, presbycusis is a natural consequence of the body’s aging. As the components of the inner ear such as the cochlea and auditory nerve, steadily degenerate, so does our hearing. 

Presbycusis can also be exacerbated by consistent exposure to loud noises over a lifetime, which damages the sensory hair cells (stereocilia) responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain. 

Old age health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease can also be a factor in hearing loss – although this generally suggests a separate and much rarer condition. In the vast majority of cases, presbycusis is caused by a combination of both noise-induced hearing loss and physiological degeneration.

Hearing loss
Doctor showing senior female patient model of human ear

What are the symptoms of presbycusis?

If your hearing is starting to fade with age, you might notice:

  • Higher pitched sounds becoming impossible to hear
  • Difficulty understanding people even when they raise their voice. 
  • Difficulty distinguishing speech from background noise
  • Difficulty talking on the telephone.

However, because presbycusis progresses gradually, you might not notice the symptoms until they’re pointed out by someone else. Taking a periodic hearing test will alert you to any changes before things become socially difficult.

Can presbycusis be avoided?

Natural changes to the ear with age cannot be avoided, but you can reduce the risk of severe hearing loss in old age by protecting your ears against excessive noise. Some measures you can take are:

  • Wearing earmuffs or earplugs when working in noisy environments
  • Turning down the volume when wearing headphones (this is particularly important if your hearing is already compromised – you might be tempted to turn the volume up to a dangerous level)
  • Avoiding close-range exposure to noise sources (e.g. at concerts, fireworks).
Ear muffs for hearing protection

Communication amongst family and friends

How can you maintain communication with family and friends?

One of the most common frustrations associated with age-related hearing loss is difficulty in holding a normal conversation with family and friends. However, there are some steps you can take to make day to day communication easier. 

  • Be open about your hearing loss with family and friends instead of trying to hide or deny the condition. If you’re transparent about the problems you are experiencing, others will be able to help by speaking with more clarity and volume. 
  • Minimise sound distractions in your home. Turn off the TV and radio when they aren’t being actively used so you’re better able to hear conversations. 
  • Position yourself so that you can see the other person’s face while they talk, as this can aid understanding.

Modern hearing aids can also remove much of the difficulty associated with daily communication. You may have to trial a few in order to find the one that’s right for you, so consult with one of Bay Audio’s audiologists to discuss your options.

What are the treatment options for presbycusis?

Because presbycusis is a sensorineural condition, there is currently no treatment that can reverse it. However modern hearing technology can ensure your lifestyle isn’t unnecessarily disrupted by age-related hearing loss and also have very positive effects.  The introduction of hearing devices also has very positive effects on stimulating the hearing system and preserving the hearing moving forward.

Patient discussing treatment options

 Speak to a qualified audiologist about the solutions that might be right for you.

Your local Bay Audio clinicians are on hand to answer any questions you have, or to provide the hearing aid accessories you need for a successful trip away.