Hearing loss

Get information and resources on age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis.

What is age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)?

Hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, occurs in most individuals as they grow older. Hearing loss can happen slowly or suddenly. It's often a natural result of aging.

Presbycusis most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the process of loss is gradual, people who have presbycusis may not realize that their hearing is diminishing.

What are the symptoms of age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)?

Common symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Speech of others seems mumbled or slurred.
  • High-pitched sounds such as “s” and “th” are difficult to hear and tell apart.
  • Conversations are difficult to understand, especially when there is background noise.
  • A man’s voice is easier to hear than the higher pitches of a woman’s voice.
  • Certain sounds seem annoying or overly loud.
  • Tinnitus (a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound in one or both ears) may also occur.

What causes age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)?

The most frequent cause of age-related hearing loss is the natural breakdown of hair cells in the inner ear. Sound reaches the inner ear, but the breakdown of hair cells prevents the sound signal from reaching the brain. This is known as sensorineural hearing loss.

Age-related hearing loss can also be caused by age-related changes that may affect the eardrum or the bones of the middle ear, called conductive hearing loss, which affects how well sound can move into the inner ear. Long-term medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, or other problems with blood movement (circulation), may also contribute to age-related hearing loss.

What can I do if I have age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)?

Hearing aids may be recommended for some individuals. Assistive listening devices can provide further improvement in hearing ability in certain situations.

One example of such a device is the built-in telephone amplifier. Another example is FM systems that make sounds clearer, with or without a hearing aid, by delivering sound waves like a radio.

Training in speechreading (using visual cues to determine what is being spoken) can help those with presbycusis to understand better what is being said in conversations or presentations.

How can I help someone who has age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)?

  • Speak clearly.
  • Make sure the person with hearing loss can see you. Make eye contact. Do not try to carry on a conversation from another room.
  • Eliminate background noise, radio, TV, running water and clattering dishes.
  • Be patient when you have to repeat something.
  • Give support to the elderly person trying to adjust to a hearing aid.
  • Encourage the person with hearing loss to continue with all work, leisure and social activities.
  • Remember to include the person with hearing loss in a group conversation.

Resources