About 48 million Americans suffer from some type of hearing loss, with even as many as 20% of teenagers having measurable hearing loss in one or both ears. Life is getting louder, and it’s taking a toll on our hearing ability. New evidence also suggests the typical American diet may be playing a role in the high degree of age-related hearing loss we see today.
Indeed, about one–third of people age 65–74 have hearing loss. Over age 75, about 50% of people have it. And nearly 100% of centenarians have it, suggesting that if we live long enough, we will all have hearing loss eventually.
Age-Related Hearing Loss
Age-related hearing loss is a name given to sensorineural hearing loss that seems to occur and worsen as a person enters old age. It can begin as early as age 45, but usually doesn’t become problematic until after age 60 or so. Because there is such a long period when age-related hearing loss progresses before becoming bad enough to require the use of hearing aids, it’s recommended to get your hearing tested regularly in order to catch it early. Lifestyle changes like more frequent use of hearing protection, altered diet, and quitting smoking may be able to stop or slow the progress of age-related hearing loss.
Frequent Hearing Tests are Recommended
The non-profit Better Hearing Institute recommends getting a hearing test once a decade until age 50, and once every 3 years after that. People who work in loud environments or who work in critical listening fields (such as musicians and sound engineers) ought to be tested more frequently than the general population. Getting a hearing test is the best way to keep track of your hearing health, and to know for sure when you have a hearing loss and could benefit from the assistance of hearing aids.
Signs You May Have Hearing Loss
The first sign that we have hearing loss is usually that someone else tells us we do. While this can be hard to swallow, the fact of the matter is that hearing loss is hard for us to identify ourselves. We don’t hear what we don’t hear, so if someone else is noticing a sound in the environment that we aren’t able to hear, it’s a likely sign that we have a hearing loss.
The first time that we notice hearing loss on our own is usually in a group situation with lots of background noise. Competing sounds in a bar or restaurant are especially difficult for those with hearing loss to differentiate, and we will notice ourselves needing to ask repeatedly for clarification, and likely becoming fatigued earlier than usual.
The fatigue associated with hearing loss will soon become familiar. Nearly every social engagement will tax our minds more than it used to, as our ears do less work for us and our brains need to pick up the slack, putting together context clues and sentence fragments to try to parse out coherent thoughts. Some people mistake this exhaustion for being a separate age-related condition, when in fact a set of hearing aids would allow them to participate comfortably in social engagements as they once did.
Other signs that you may have hearing loss include:
Increasing the volume on the TV or radio (someone else in the house may ask you to turn it down)
Believing that others are mumbling a lot of the time
Difficulty talking on the phone
Sleeping through an alarm clock
Trouble understanding dialogue at the movies
Untreated Hearing Loss Has Consequences
Unfortunately, untreated hearing loss often leads to a decreased interest in social activity. People who don’t get hearing aids begin to shy away from spending time with other people, often because of embarrassment about how difficult it has become for them to follow a conversation. With this decreased social activity comes less physical activity in general, and less time outdoors. Memory troubles typically begin around this phase, as well. Indeed, the consequences of failing to treat hearing loss seem to be a cascade of negative outcomes for health and well-being.