Description of Hearing Loss
Did you know…
- 500 million people in the world experience hearing loss.
- Hearing loss is the number one disability, as well as
the most preventable disability in the world (SHHH, 2002).
- 30% of adults over 65 years of age experience handicapping
hearing loss (Weinstein, 2003).
- Only 5 million of those individuals with hearing loss
actually use hearing aids (SHHH, 2002). That's a lot of
people who could be receiving help for their hearing loss,
but aren't. Hearing aids are not covered by Medicare so
paying for an aid is often a problem. For more information
about funding for assistive technology read Informed Consumer's
Guide to Funding Assistive Technology at http://www.abledata.com/abledata_docs/funding.htm.
- Many people don’t wear hearing aids because they
won’t acknowledge their hearing impairment. Some people
are embarrassed to wear an aid, even though hearing aids
today are very small and can be inconspicuous.
- Both former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton
were fitted with hearing aids while they were in office.
Due to loud workplaces, loud music, and loud recreational
equipment, people are losing hearing at a younger age then
they did 30 years ago. People who have been frequently exposed
to loud noises from factories, construction equipment, power
tools, lawn mowers, guns, planes, or loud music are at risk
of suffering from age related hearing loss at an earlier age
than those not frequently exposed to loud noises.
What is hearing loss?
Individuals who are hard of hearing experience a partial or
moderate loss of hearing. This loss can be caused by a number
of things, such as malformation of the ear, disease processes,
fluid in the ear, impacted wax, exposure to loud noises, or
the aging process. There are three types of hearing loss: Sensorineural, Conductive, and a combination of Conductive
and Sensorineural. This resource focuses on age-related or
Sensorineural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss is damage to the inner ear or to
the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. The cilia
in the inner ear that translate sound waves into nerve impulses
are damaged. It is a permanent loss that cannot be corrected
and happens to all of us as we age. When hearing loss is caused
by age, it is referred to as presbycusis.
Presbycusis presents itself in a similar pattern for every
person. People begin by losing hearing in the high pitches
first and then losing it in the mid and low pitches. It usually
affects both ears to the same degree, beginning gradually
and becoming increasingly worse over time.
Background noise is mostly made up of low-frequency noise. Because seniors hear low frequencies better than high frequencies,
they are better able to hear all of the noise but less able
to pick out the important part of a conversation over the
noise. When a person has a hearing loss caused by age (presbycusis),
the person often complains that it sounds as if people are
mumbling. A typical complaint is "I could hear if only
people spoke more clearly."
Presbycusis can be helped with a hearing aid, but unfortunately
four out of five Americans with hearing loss do not use a
hearing aid (National Academy on an Aging Society, 1999). Many people don't wear hearing aids because they won't acknowledge
their hearing impairment. Some people are embarrassed to wear
an aid, even though hearing aids today are very small and
can be inconspicuous.