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What leads to age-related hearing loss?

As Australia’s population ages, we expect the number of people with a hearing impairment to double to an estimated 7.8 million people in 2060.

<p>How does age-related hearing loss impact the way we enjoy music and films, along with the company of friends and family? [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

How does age-related hearing loss impact the way we enjoy music and films, along with the company of friends and family? [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • By the age of 85 years, more than half of Australians have some degree of hearing loss
  • Hearing loss in Australia’s ageing population is a significant contributing factor to the late-life disability burden that exists in this country

 

Roughly one in five people around the world suffer from hearing loss and this number is expected to rise as the global population ages.

Age-related hearing loss — slowly advancing difficulty in hearing high-frequency sounds — makes spoken communication more challenging, often leading to loneliness and depression.

Researchers analysed check-up health examination data from 2,349 participants aged over 60 and after gathering each participant’s medical history, along with performing blood tests, a body composition test and a basic hearing test — they ran tests to determine some of the factors in ARHL between men and women.

The researchers found that while some factors — such as age — were associated with ARHL regardless of gender, others were differently associated with ARHL risk in males and females.

For example, while being underweight showed a significant association with ARHL in males, both low weight and obesity showed significant associations in females.

Smoking was associated with increased ARHL risk in males only, who were far more likely than females to identify as smokers in this sample population.

The sample population is in line with the latest data on smoking in Australia from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Strategy, which was consistent with the 2017 – 2018 National Health Survey, finding that a higher proportion of men — 16.5 percent — smoked than women — 11.1 percent — consistent across all age groups.

The new research on contributing factors to hearing loss, published on March 6, 2024, found that females who started menstruating at an earlier age were less likely to develop ARHL later in life, pointing towards a possible protective effect of the hormone estrogen.

The authors, from Chungbuk National University Hospital, clarified that these factors aren’t necessarily proven determinants for whether people will develop age-related hearing loss — as more research is needed to prove the link.

However, the authors said that assessing and counselling patients about their smoking behaviour, weight and menstruation may help improve screening and preventative treatment for ARHL.

Experts from Ear Science Institute Australia have determined that, although hearing loss can occur at any age, hearing loss in the Australian population starts to rise significantly from around 50 years of age.

The proven links between hearing loss, dementia and mental health highlight the need for early detection, treatment and a proactive approach to protecting one’s sense of hearing and preventing vulnerability as a person ages.

There are two main forms of hearing loss — ‘conductive’ and ‘sensorineural,’ with sensorineural hearing loss being the most common form of age-related hearing loss.

For tips on how to talk to someone with hearing loss, such as an older loved one, please refer to the Better Health Channel’s guide to communication and how hearing loss can affect one’s life.

 

How do you communicate with someone who experiences hearing loss? Let the team at Talking Aged Care know your thoughts and subscribe to the newsletter for more information, news and industry updates.

 

Related content:

Protecting your hearing and managing hearing loss

Tips for managing your arthritis

Top health concerns for older people

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