I just read an article in one of my trade journals, The Hearing Journal, January 2022 issue by Daniel Fink who discusses this exact topic. It is funny because I have been telling my patients this same thing he talks about, that just because you are older doesn’t mean you have aging hearing loss. Let me define what I believe is the difference between losing hearing and aging hearing loss.
A person can get hearing loss for many reasons. Most people get hearing loss from noise which is defined as Noise Induced hearing loss (NIHL). The loss from noise damage is usually from overuse of the sensory cells in the inner ear. The damage results in the loss of hearing sounds softer than the level of the thresholds. When the damage gets more severe people’s word discrimination or ability to clearly understand word(s) starts getting jumbled. Usually that degree of hearing loss happens at a moderate of 60 dB or poorer loss.
When people get older, the noise exposure and other damage causing issues start to catch up and cause hearing loss. That doesn’t mean it is aging specifically!
Aging hearing loss is more about the lack of ability to hear regular speech patterns and the temporal coding of hearing loss. More specifically, what that means is not able to hear when people talk “fast” or even at a normal speed. People who have aging hearing loss often ask others to talk slower. The slowing down of speech makes it easier for the person with aging hearing loss to hear and code each word.
Clearly, those who have a more significant hearing loss with poorer discrimination also need clearer slower speech but this is a different reason than people who have aging hearing loss.
People who have aging hearing loss may also have a normal hearing or even a mild hearing loss and not severe. People with aging hearing loss cannot hear in noise, even a little noise is hard for the aging hearing loss and need a higher signal to noise level. Hearing aids can help but so can pocket talkers or other personal sound amplifiers to try to get the signal directly to the person’s ear.
Dr. Fink, from the article said that normal aging is not usually hearing loss. He reveals that normal aging process happens due to hormonal changes and issues like metabolism, muscle mass decreases and body fat increases. He describes abnormal aging like hearing loss can be due to various exposures, like noise pollution, poor diet, disuse of muscle (including brain muscle), and poor medical care.
This is good news if you are a young person because you know what you need ot do to keep your hearing health good and not get aging hearing loss. When you are in noise, wear your hearing protection. Stay connected and hearing well over the years. For more information about your hearing health and questions on aging, feel free to reach out to us at Hears to U, Audiology. We do love helping people with their long-term health of hearing.