Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is one of the most common health problems experienced by older adults. In fact, Medline Plus says that a third of people over 65 and half of those over 85 live with the condition. The causes of presbycusis can be complex as it’s the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. These include long-term exposure to loud noise, taking certain kinds of medications, and changes in the neural pathways that carry sound information to the brain. However, the most common cause would be physiological changes within the inner ear, which is critical for hearing.
While presbycusis isn’t life-threatening, it can significantly affect your quality of living if left untreated. This article will give you important information regarding presbycusis from the common types to how you can manage them.
News Medical talks about the four types of presbycusis, depending on what part of the auditory system is damaged.
Sensory presbycusis is characterized by a loss of hair cells and high-frequency hearing loss. Seniors with this condition have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds such as birds, telephone beeps, and female’s and children’s voices.
Metabolic presbycusis occurs with the loss of the stria vascularis, the part of the ear that helps convert sound waves into neural signals to be sent to the brain. This results in low-frequency hearing loss, meaning those with this kind of presbycusis have difficulty hearing low-pitched sounds, such as men’s voices and phone conversations.
Neural presbycusis is when there is a loss of spiral ganglion cells — these are specialized sensory neurons that transmit hearing to the brain. This causes severely reduced speech discrimination, which is a person’s ability to understand speech that’s presented at a level that’s typically easily heard. Seniors with this kind of hearing loss can have difficulty hearing in noisy locations.
Mechanical presbycusis, also called cochlear conductive presbycusis, is a thickening in the cochlea’s membrane due to calcified or fatty deposits. Seniors with this condition would experience some form of hearing loss at all frequencies.
Presbycusis can begin as early as a person’s thirties and gradually worsen over time. But because the progression of their hearing loss is slow, people tend to not realize that they can’t hear as well as they used to. Some symptoms of age-related hearing loss include having trouble hearing over the telephone, having difficulty following conversations with two or more people, and turning the TV or radio’s volume up too loud just to make words out. You might also notice that you keep asking others to repeat themselves, and that speech and other everyday noises sound muffled.
But aside from having difficulty hearing certain sounds and understanding speech, presbycusis can also make it hard to determine where a sound is coming from and identify what its source is. A ringing sensation in either or both ears (tinnitus) may also occur, as well as dizziness and problems with balance (presbystasis).
If you’re experiencing symptoms of presbycusis, you should see a doctor. You’ll undergo a full physical exam to rule out other possible causes of hearing loss, since medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes may also play a role. The doctor will also use an otoscope to check your outer ear canal and eardrum for damages, blockage, or infection. You may also be referred to an audiologist (a hearing specialist) to undergo an audiogram, which is a test to measure the degree of hearing loss. During an audiogram, sounds will be played through headphones to one ear at a time, and you’ll be asked to respond if you can hear each sound. The doctor will then perform an analysis of the findings and ideally give you a concrete diagnosis so you can figure out your next steps.
There’s no cure for age-related hearing loss. However, doctors, usual audiologists, can still help you improve your hearing and quality of life. The most common management is the utilization of a hearing aid, which is an electronic, battery-run device that makes sounds louder. Since there are many types of hearing aids — such as behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, and in-the-canal — ask for a trial period to check which one is right for you.
While most hearing aids are removable, there are also fixed ones like cochlear implants. These are small electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the inner ear and are only recommended to those with severe hearing loss. These implants can make sounds somewhat louder, although they can’t restore normal hearing completely. Aural rehabilitation methods are also useful as they can teach you speech reading to help you follow conversations.
You may also consult other professionals, such as psychologists and nutritionists. Since the loss of hearing can result in depression and anxiety symptoms, psychologists can teach coping strategies. Meanwhile, nutritionists can give you pointers on how a good diet can help you maintain or relatively improve your level of hearing. These medical professionals are especially beneficial if your hearing loss is secondary to other diagnoses.
A combination of these treatments will help improve your hearing and quality of life as much as possible — but these may be costly. To help lighten the financial load, you can look into availing Medicare. Parts A and B cover most of these treatments, but they don’t include the costs of a hearing aid or even the exams needed for fitting one. However, KelseyCare Advantage outlines how Advantage plans can cover all the costs involved in getting a hearing aid, as well as everything that’s included in Parts A and B. This gives you a safety net that allows you to afford whatever is needed to treat and manage your presbycusis. Moreover, there are customized plans that cover fitness and wellness programs so you can address your overall health on top of just hearing loss management.
Experts actually don’t know how to completely prevent age-related hearing loss. However, you can take steps to stop it from getting worse. For one, you should avoid long-term exposure to loud sounds. If that you get exposed to them, you can use earplugs or earmuffs to protect your ears. If you have health conditions that can affect hearing, such as diabetes and hypertension, then you should manage them as well.
A good diet can also help prevent hearing loss. Our Healthy Salads Can Be Nutritious and Inexpensive write-up shows that salads are already great meals that are packed with nutrients while also being simple to prepare and cheap. Spinach and kale are great hearing-friendly bases for your salad since they are filled with folate — this nutrient increases circulation, helping your inner ears’ cells stay healthy and active. Meanwhile, legumes and nuts have magnesium that can maintain nerve function and protect the hair cells in your inner ear when exposed to loud sounds.
Presbycusis may be a permanent decline in hearing, but there are steps you can take to ensure that you can slow down its progression. As you learn to live with hearing loss, you’ll also manage to look for ways to improve your quality of life despite the condition.
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