My elderly father has considerable hearing loss, and more than once he has admonished me with, “Wait till you’re my age, and we’ll see how well you can hear.”
I expect to be hearing quite fine when I’m elderly, because I make it a habit to protect my ears from exposure to loud noise – any loud noise, including screaming children.
Call me ridiculous, but my keen ears allow me to eavesdrop on hushed conversations in other rooms, as well as hear the voice on the other end of the phone when someone is having a conversation!
While my mother was recuperating from serious illness, my “super” hearing came in handy countless times when I was her caregiver.
For this article I consulted with Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC, who is board certified in otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat specialty).
My father has been exposed to lots of loud noise all his life, including church choirs that he conducted; using power tools in his basement machine shop; and watching a loud TV.
Dr. Silvers explains, “Contrary to belief, it is not normal to be wearing a hearing aid, as you get older. However, the longer we live, the more likely we will have some deterioration of all of our senses.
“Night vision, reading ability and hearing will decrease. Many even note a decrease in taste and smell. The two most common causes of hearing loss are genetics and noise exposure.”
Genetics load the gun, but lifestyle choices pull the trigger.
If one chooses to never wear ear protection in loud environments like ball games, movies and symphonies, then this will certainly kill off enough nerve cells in the ear to result in some hearing loss.
It’s important to know, however, that Dr. Silvers adds that some patients are predisposed to hearing loss, with or without external factors.
By the time a person is old, he has decades of exposure to loud noise under his belt; it’s no wonder that elderly people usually have some degree of hearing loss, enough to impede understanding conversations and requiring TVs to be quite loud.
Dr. Silvers continues, “If there is a family history of hearing loss (aunt, uncle, sibling or parent), some patients may also suffer the same misfortune losing hearing at a young age.”
Dr. Silvers adds that people with jobs in loud environments need to protect their ears from damage.
Acoustic trauma has permanent results. Ears do not toughen up with chronic exposure to loud noise. Nerve cells are not muscle cells.
I used to work at a major city newspaper and occasionally ventured into the printing press room.
The volume was deafening. I always wore ear muffs that cut out 25 decibels of volume.
I’d see pressmen standing right by the press machines without the ear muffs on! And no earplugs, either (which wouldn’t have done much good)!
How often do you see construction workers with hearing protection? Ever see a motorcycle rider with earplugs or muffs? What biker wants to be seen with earplugs?
But what a small price to pay for preventing hearing loss. Hearing aids don’t make a man look macho. Nor does always asking people to speak up.
Dr. Silvers continues, “Excessive noise exposure over a short period of time will lead to an early deterioration of hearing in the higher frequencies.
“Over time our noise exposures, especially those in louder cities, will lead to a more rapid decrease in hearing than those with little to no noise exposure.
“I do agree that the less traumatic noise exposure we have, the better our hearing will be over the long-term.”
It doesn’t matter if people think I’m a “sissy” because I plug my ears when I walk past a construction site or an ambulance goes by.
When I’m elderly, it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be frequently asking people to speak up and struggling to hear conversations.