Older people and hearing loss

Three out of four Australians over the age of 70 suffer from hearing loss. However, not all people suffer from the same type and there can be different factors which affect hearing as you age.

Hearing loss can be caused by wax build-up, exposure to loud noises, ageing, infections, heart conditions, stroke, head injuries, certain medications or be hereditary.

Presbyacusis is the most common type of hearing loss in people over 55. Presbyacusis occurs gradually, often over several years. It affects both ears equally, and often results in people having trouble hearing high-pitched (high frequency) noises. Those suffering from presbyacusis will notice that they have trouble using the telephone or following group conversations in noisy environments. The exact cause of presbyacusis is unknown, however, a number of factors have been suggested as possible causes. These include:

  • Decreased blood flow to the cochlea (part of the ear)
  • Exposure to loud noises over time
  • Exposure to stress over time
  • Certain chemicals or medications
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Hereditary factors

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to parts of the inner ear, the auditory nerve or hearing pathways in the brain. The level of hearing can vary from ear to ear with sensorineural hearing loss.

Tinnitus is a constant ringing, roaring or other noise inside the ear. It often accompanies other forms of hearing loss and it can be caused by loud noises, certain medicines and other health problems.

There are devices and medications which can help in most cases of hearing loss, whether it be age related or caused by damage to the ear or brain. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from hearing loss, a simple and painless hearing test is the best way to find out if you can fix this frustrating condition.

National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)