Everyone is affected in some way by natural changes brought about by ageing. But if left unmanaged, natural hearing loss can bring about social exclusion and lead to psychological changes, such as depression.
Studies are also starting to show a symbiotic relationship between hearing loss and the rate of cognitive decline.
For most people the ability to hear is a passive process. We focus on a sound and the brain just interprets the information. In spite of the complex functions involved few people have any cognitive awareness of how to hear.
However for those with hearing impairment, particularly if left unmanaged, the simple task of hearing becomes an effort. Having to work harder to make sense of sound information can lead to frustration and physical fatigue. The cumulative efforts of ‘trying’ to hear, and embarrassment from misinterpretation, can lead people to avoid social interaction altogether. This places people at a much higher risk of dementia.
Hearing and Ageing
Age-related hearing loss, or presbyacusis, affects those over 65. The ability to hear relies on changing vibration into a signal the brain interprets as ‘sound’. This occurs in the inner ear through thousands of tiny hair cells/ receptors called cilia. If this transfer to the brain is compromised then making sense of sound is also affected.
As the body matures these hair cells naturally die or deteriorate. As the body is unable to regenerate or ‘regrow’ new hair cells, age-related hearing loss cannot be cured. However few cases of inner ear loss result in deafness. The rate of decline is progressive but slow, and individuals usually retain suitable hearing levels by actively managing their hearing loss.
So anyone who suspects they have hearing loss should speak to their GP to get a full diagnostic hearing assessment. Similarly, family members and caregivers should do the same.
A common option for prebyacusis is targeted amplification through hearing aids, which amplify sounds at pre-set frequencies, to restore normal loudness perception.
There are also auxiliary amplification devices such as TV listeners, telephones and alerting devices (such as doorbell or phone ringers). All these can help mitigate the social constraints of hearing loss and help reduce depression and dementia.
Information supplied by Melanie Lewis, a trained hearing aid audiologist. She works for Hearing Direct, a UK based vendor of deaf phones and hard of hearing assistive listening devices.