You may not have heard the word presbycusis, but surely you have ever tried to have a conversation with an older person and it has been almost impossible because they barely heard what you said.

Presbycusis is a very common condition in older people that is associated with age, and there are some things we can do to prevent it.

We tell you everything you need to know about presbycusis.

persona mayor que no escucha bien

What is presbycusis?

We call presbycusis the inability of some people to detect all or part of some sounds. It is a progressive loss of hearing that is more common in older people and one of the main problems in audiology. In other words, it is the hearing loss that usually arrives with old age. When we say that a person is “losing his hearing” we mean that he is beginning to suffer from presbycusis.

It is characterized by a loss of high-pitched sounds, which is where the phonemes of the voiceless consonants are located, while the area of low sounds are relatively well preserved. This common characteristic in presbycusis means that the person who suffers from it, hears but does not understand, and it is easy for him to confuse words like “TAPA” and “PATA”.

Also in this type of hearing loss the patient has a hard time understanding in complex sound environments such as in areas with many people, in places with high background noises, conversations with groups of people and social events.

Some of the most recent studies suggest that, of the entire world population aged 65 to 75, 23% suffer from presbycusis. A percentage that reaches up to 80% for people over 85 years of age.

What causes presbycusis?

Presbycusis is caused by wear and tear of the hair cells of the cochlea. This wear can be a consequence of aging, but also by being subjected for long periods of time to sounds that are too loud. This time in which we subject our ear to loud sounds (discos, headphones with high volumes, the constant noise of traffic in large cities) are wearing down these ear cells and cause this type of hearing loss, which is one of the main causes of hearing loss. In the same way that the eyes lose the ability to focus closely and we begin to talk about presbyopia or eyestrain, the auditory system also wears out and loses its ability to receive and process sounds. This is a natural process and, although it does not happen to everyone, it is very common.

It is currently being observed that presbycusis is appearing at younger ages. 50 years ago, in a less noisy environment, presbycusis appeared from the age of 75, it was rare the case that appeared before that age.

Today, we find many cases from the age of 65, a consequence of the change that has occurred in our environment. It is not difficult to find in large cities streets where the ambient sound due to traffic exceeds 80 decibels constantly. Crowds of people in large areas, restaurants full of people talking at the same time, the use as we discussed of headphones at high volumes for a long time, working in noisy places, the noise of the constant subway, being in discos long periods of time without hearing protection, loud music inside cars and endless situations of high noise environments common today accelerate this process of wear.

Obviously we have more presbycusics in urban environments than in rural environments.

This process can be accelerated by other causes such as taking certain ototoxic medications in long treatments such as certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen or Aspirin, Antimalarials such as quinine, and also alcohol and nicotine.

What are the symptoms of presbycusis?

Presbycusis is not a sudden hearing loss, but affects us little by little. At first it is possible not to notice anything and, however, over time the symptoms become more noticeable.

Some of these symptoms or signs of presbycusis may include:

  • Notice that some sounds sound slightly muffled.
  • Not understanding some words and needing to be repeated several times, especially when there are other background sounds.
  • Notice that you begin to have trouble distinguishing consonants in words.
  • Constantly needing other people to turn up the volume when speaking, slow down, or pronounce more clearly.
  • Note that, when listening to the radio or television, we need the loudest volume each time.

Other people may also pay attention to these signs. If social behaviors begin to change, for example, the person seems to disengage from group conversations or even avoids social situations more often, it is likely because they begin to have trouble distinguishing sounds.

What is the treatment for presbycusis?

Presbycusis must be diagnosed by a specialist, since, although it is the most common cause of hearing loss in older people, there may be other reasons for hearing loss.

You should know that today there is still no cure for presbycusis, since it is a degeneration or wear of the auditory system. However, we can, thanks to current technology, greatly improve the quality of life at the auditory level of a presbycusic thanks to the latest generation digital hearing aids, with their connectivity complements as necessary as those that allow us to listen to mobile phones, music, applications and television in both ears. These are not devices that expand the sound, such as the amplifiers that we sometimes see on television and that have no use, but fantastic mini computers that have a sophisticated microprocessor that adjust very exactly to the curve of the patient’s loss, cleaning and separating the noise from the word so that they allow us to understand better. There are different types of hearing aids as well as levels of technology depending on the needs of each person.

Elderly person dancing with helmets

Loss of hearing should not be taken lightly, even at a very old age. Beyond the fact that it can pose a risk that the person does not hear danger warnings such as fire alarms or car horns, presbycusis can be a trigger for psychological problems such as depression and social isolation because they cannot enjoy pleasures such as group conversations, music, cinema or theater among many others.

How can presbycusis be prevented?

Since presbycusis has no cure, it is important to do what we can to prevent it and that we maintain some usual ear care.

As we have already mentioned, it is normal for the different systems of the body to deteriorate over time, but our habits during youth and adult life can greatly influence the severity of that deterioration, as well as how late or soon it arrives.

Regular ear checkups can help detect a tendency to lose hearing early. Avoid listening to music or other sounds at very loud volumes and very close to the eardrum (with headphones or headphones) for a long time at a time. If you attend concerts or festivals, protect your ears with special earplugs to avoid causing damage to your eardrums.

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