Presbycusis: Why deprive oneself of the joys of hearing?

August 16, 2011 by Isabelle Côté

Presbycusis: Why deprive oneself of the joys of hearing?

Presbycusis is the leading cause of deafness in humans. It is the slow, gradual loss of hearing in people over 50. People suf-fering from this condition report increasing difficulty understanding and participating in conversations in noisy environments. Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) is also a common symptom of presbycusis. This disorder especially affects a person’s ability to hear high frequencies, which are critical to understanding speech.

People also frequently blame today’s fast-paced life and the constant influx of background noise for their hearing problems. If they pay close attention, they realize that it is much more difficult to hear what a woman is saying, while men’s voices are still audible. These difficulties become even more pronounced when there is a great deal of background noise or when several people are talking at once. Similarly, it can become harder and harder to hear the television (lack of sound clarity, even when the -volume is turned up).

The first signs

In people over the age of 50, a hearing impairment can first lead to feelings of isolation. Progressively, sufferers will give up their favourite activities for fear of not understanding or having to ask people to repeat themselves too much. Quite often, these people don’t even realize that they are shutting themselves out, and they tend to complain that young people speak too quietly, don’t enunciate properly or mumble.

Why are some sounds harder to hear than others?

The energy (power) behind speech comes from low frequencies, which people with presbycusis are capable of hearing rather well. However, they will struggle to understand words themselves, which are produced at higher frequencies (consonants).

This is why it can be so difficult to carry on a simple conversation if, say, the refrigerator, whose sound is still audible, is making noise in the background—it’s hearing without understanding.

Presbycusis: Why deprive oneself of the joys of hearing?

Coping with the situation

As audiologists, we often find that older people wait a long time before consulting a specialist for help finding solutions to their hearing problems. Many claim that they won’t be alive much longer, and it’s not worth investing in hearing aids. However, refusing to wear hearing aids when an audiogram is clearly pointing to a hearing impairment means voluntarily depriving oneself of the ability to communicate with loved ones.

For several years now, various organizations have been working hard to enhance living conditions for the elderly. When it comes to hearing health, improving one’s quality of life starts with hearing aid fitting, regardless of age. In fact, wearing hearing aids is the most effective way to overcome hearing problems and maintain one’s quality of life.

Don’t hesitate to consult your audiologist at one of the Lobe Santé auditive et communication multidisciplinary clinics for more information.

More than 36% of people over age 65 have hearing problems serious enough to cause some degree of discomfort in social situations.