Sensitivity to Sound as We Age

Sensitivity to Sound as We Age

In Hearing Aids, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Dr. Randi Davis Yontz

Dr. Randi Davis Yontz
Latest posts by Dr. Randi Davis Yontz (see all)

Hearing loss is prevalent in people of all ages, from older adults, teenagers, teens to even children. Hearing loss, however, varies from person to person depending on their ear age, and scientists have been researching how our sensitivity to sound changes as we grow older. Younger and older adults have very different reactions to sound, which is why a noisy environment can be fine for a younger adult and too loud for an older adult.

While some might put this down to crankiness, there is a scientific reason for why older adults are more sensitive to noise.

Studying Differences in Hearing

Recent research at Western University in Canada investigated hearing disparities between young and old adults. Neuroscientists wanted to find out how our brains work to process sound and how age influences the part of the brain that is important for hearing. They measured differences in brain activity in the auditory cortex in adults in their 20s and in adults in their 60s who had regular hearing.

Bjorn Herrmann, a hearing researcher at Western University was part of the team doing the research. “What we observed is that older individuals don’t adapt as well to their sound environment.” This means that we become more heightened to sound as we age, less able to handle the many different environments thrown our way.

Hearing in Noise

Researchers believe that such a response to sound may explain why older adults have a much tougher time listening in loud places, such as in a busy restaurant or bar. They can’t filter out unnecessary sounds and are distracted by these sounds more often. “It’s a fundamental property of the auditory system to be able to adjust really fast to any environment a person goes into,” according to Herrmann. “If you cannot do that anymore, then in each situation your auditory system might be a little off. This means older individuals may be easily distracted and overwhelmed by sounds, or find them too loud.”

One explanation for the reduced ability to filter out background noise is that the brain synchronizes different speech patterns in older adults compared to younger adults. As tests were done on visual brain and neural signals, the signals in the brains of older adults correlated with all sounds and not with a particular sound–like speech. The auditory cortex of older adults is overwhelmed by all the sound information that is received. This causes much hearing fatigue and trouble focusing in on the important sounds.

How Hearing Aids Help

Hearing aids have been shown to help block out background noise effectively and reduce sound sensitivity. Using a hearing aid gives a hearing-impaired person a number of benefits.

  1. Reduced sound sensitivity: Today’s devices have advanced programs such as background noise reduction, speech enhancement, and directionality microphones that work together to help you focus on what you want to hear and tune out distracting background sounds that inhibit your ability to focus on the sounds that matter most.
  2. Improved speech comprehension in noise: Hearing aids don’t recover normal hearing, but they can substantially improve it. This makes it easier to converse in noisy environments and stay connected to loved ones.
  3. Other benefits: They have also been shown to improve earning power at work, delay cognitive decline, and help manage the effects of tinnitus. A recent study found that people with hearing aids are better able to live the life they want than those who allow hearing loss to get untreated.

Ascent Audiology & Hearing

Do you think that your sound sensitivity might be due to a hearing loss? Or maybe you’ve noticed a change in your partner’s hearing. Whatever your need, we offer extensive hearing health services at Ascent Audiology & Hearing, from hearing tests and hearing aids to custom hearing protection. To learn more, contact us today!