Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.
Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor's advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and smoke alarms. Hearing loss can also make it hard to enjoy talking with family and friends, leading to feelings of isolation.
Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the loss is gradual, if you have age-related hearing loss you may not realize that you've lost some of your ability to hear.
There are many causes of age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it arises from changes in the inner ear as we age, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear, or from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Certain medical conditions and medications may also play a role.
Research about a link between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline and dementia has been inconsistent. Understanding any possible association between hearing loss and cognitive decline could help with strategies to prevent cognitive decline and dementia with use of hearing assist devices.
Recently researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 20,264 participants in 36 studies. A meta-analysis combines the results of multiple studies identified in a systematic review and quantitatively summarizes the overall association between the same exposure and outcomes measured across all studies.
The researchers found was a small association between age-related hearing loss and increased risk for cognitive decline (such as in executive function, episodic memory and processing speed), cognitive impairment and dementia.