1 in 6 baby boomers (born between 1946-1964), or 14.6% have a hearing problem

1 in 14 Generation Xers (born between 1965-1984), or 7.4% already have hearing loss

At least 1.4 million children have hearing problems

3 in 1,000 infants are born with severe-profound hearing loss

                                                                                                                (Better Hearing Institute)

Impacts of hearing loss

Decreased hearing is part of the natural aging process.  It can be due to many different factors over the course of our lives including:

  • Loud sounds in the noisy world we live in
  • Medications
  • Genetics
  • Cell death due to aging
  • Head trauma

These factors damage the hair cells in our inner ear.  There are two types of hair cells.

1.        Inner hair cells send the signal to the brain

2.       Outer hair cells help boost soft sounds and give us improved clarity through the fine-tuning of each pitch.

Most often, we start losing hearing in the high pitches (or frequencies) first.  This is another factor affecting the clarity of speech.  The soft consonants (part of the word that gives it it’s meaning), are located in the high frequencies.  Without the consonants, our brains have to fill in the gaps. This takes the brain extra time and effort to do, especially when the speech is very fast.  This is called listening effort.  Having the speaker slow down, gives the brain extra time to put the pieces together.

Individuals with hearing loss have greater difficulty in background noise for various reasons.  First, back ground noise is generally low pitches and hearing losses are generally higher pitches.  This leaves little leftover for the listener to work with.

as we age, our brains have more difficulty in background noise due to:

1) Distractibility - Background noise can be very distracting from who you are trying to listen to. There is also visual noise.  Visual noise can also distract your brain from the speech you are trying to attend to.

2) Processing Speed - In background noise, hearing loss makes you miss some of the pieces, so you have to use greater processing speed to fill in the gaps then catch up in the conversation. This makes understanding fast talkers difficult and exhausting to listen to.

3) Working Memory - Longer and complex sentences are more difficult to follow. The greater the background noise, the more working memory processing goes down.

Listening and working on following conversations in background noise requires greater listening effort.  This is why difficult listening situations can be exhausting for those with hearing loss. They have to work twice as hard!