Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, happens very slowly. So slowly and subtly that we often don’t notice it happening until it reaches the stage where we are having significant difficulty. Even then, many people still do not accept they have any hearing deficit and continue to blame external causes for their difficulties. Here are five signs that you may have hearing loss:
1. You struggle to understand people’s speech in any background noise
When we are in our teens and 20s and have normal hearing, we have little difficulty understanding group conversations with our friends, even in the most challenging of environments, such as a loud bar or night club. Our brains have the incredible ability to filter out background noise and fill in the gaps in speech, which allows us to follow conversation in noisy environments. Even a mild hearing loss causes us to lose the ability to filter out speech in noise.
2. Speech tends to sound as if people are mumbling
When hearing loss happens due to wear and tear (i.e. ageing!), it is the high pitches that deteriorate first. This means that the most common pattern of age-related hearing loss is a high-pitch (or high-frequency) hearing loss. As speech is a mixture of high-frequency sounds (for example the syllables that do not require the voice, such as the sounds for “sss”, “sshh”, “fff”, “t”, “p”, “k”, etc.) and lower-frequency sounds (for example, the voiced syllables, such as “ooo”, “aahh”, “eee”, “mmm”, “rrr”, etc.) a high-frequency hearing loss most often results in speech having less clarity because the high-frequency information is missing.
3. Family and friends complain you have the TV volume too loud
Loss of hearing causes speech to sound quiet and/or lacking in clarity – this most often means you require the TV volume turned up louder. If you turn the volume up to compensate for your hearing loss, family members who have normal hearing may find this level uncomfortably loud and comment accordingly.
4. You misunderstand what people say more often
A high-frequency hearing loss causes some consonant sounds to effectively disappear from perception. If a hearing loss is only mild, the brain can usually fill in the gaps based on other information, such as the context of the conversation, lip-reading, etc. However, when a hearing loss progresses to a point where there are more high-frequency speech sounds missing, there are more gaps that have the potential to be filled in incorrectly. For example, the words “feed the cat” may be misunderstood as “eat the hat”! While such misunderstandings often cause a laugh, if it happens more often it can become tiring and you can feel isolated from conversation.
5. Listening to speech is generally tiring
When you have a hearing loss, the brain has to expend more energy focussing your attention and maintaining concentration than someone with normal hearing. Therefore, listening to speech can cause you to feel tired and drained.
If you can relate to any of these hearing loss signs, then it might be a good idea to have your hearing tested. Hearing loss often causes tiredness, social isolation and can reduce the pleasure you normally get from activities such as watching TV and listening to music. Remember, you don’t know what you can’t hear!