Ageing and Hearing

Age-related damage to the inner ear – also known as ‘presbycusis’ – is the single most common cause of hearing loss.

As we age, the structures inside the ear, and the related neural pathways, start to deteriorate so that we lose the ability to hear higher frequencies.

Ageing&HearingSome common signs of hearing loss are:

  • a need to turn up the TV volume
  • finding it hard to follow conversations in noisy places
  • struggling to hear on the phone
  • frequently asking people to repeat what they say
  • finding that your partner complains that you don’t listen to them
  • feeling that other people mumble 

Other causes of hearing loss

Exposure to loud noise for many years can cause both hearing loss and tinnitus (the perception of sound when no actual external sound is present). Other causes include smoking and a genetic disposition to loss of hearing with age. Some drugs, usually in large doses, or strong drugs for conditions like cancer, have also been linked with hearing loss.

How common is hearing loss as we age?

Age-related hearing loss is the most frequently affected sense in the elderly. Approximately half of adults in their 70s have a loss of hearing that is severe enough to affect communication with others. Overall, hearing loss affects some 12 million people in the UK.

What are the consequences of hearing loss?

Gradual loss of hearing can lead to social isolation, loneliness and depression. There is also increasing evidence that links it with cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia. Some studies have found that the use of hearing aids can prevent or slow down the early decline in memory and thinking capabilities in older people. 

Diagnosis of hearing loss

If you are concerned about your hearing, refer to your GP for a free NHS hearing test. If there is no obvious cause for your hearing problem, the GP will refer you to an NHS audiologist for a full hearing assessment,

Alternatively, if you are not sure whether you have a hearing loss, the RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People) offers a free online or telephone hearing check. 

Conclusions

·        Hearing loss is very common as we age.

·        Avoid causes of hearing loss such as exposure to loud noise and smoking.

·        Go to your GP for a hearing assessment if you think you have hearing loss.

·        The use of hearing aids may prevent or slow down cognitive decline.  

Reviewed and updated by Barbara Baker, December 2021. Next review, November 2025.