From the moment a mother is 20 weeks pregnant, the auditory system of the developing child begins to take shape. During this time, the baby starts to perceive some external sounds.
Typically, parents engage in simple communication with their unborn child or partake in prenatal activities. However, the sounds the baby can hear at this stage are limited, mostly consisting of low-frequency sounds.
Around 40 weeks, the auditory system further develops, allowing the fetus to hear more sounds. Interestingly, due to increased contact with the mother in the womb, the baby can recognize the mother's voice shortly after birth. However, it takes a few weeks for the baby to identify the father's voice, highlighting that hearing is a learned behavior that evolves over time.
As time progresses, our nervous system matures, facilitating the transmission of more signals from the ears to the brain. Ears start acquiring new skills: recognizing sound direction, tolerating noise, listening in noisy environments, participating in conversations, and keeping up with fast-paced dialogues. These listening skills continue to develop until around the age of 12.
Starting from this stage, our learning ability, memory storage, and auditory skills continue to evolve, indicating that hearing is a continuous development process before aging sets in.
However, development is not perpetual. Around the age of 50, some people naturally experience a decline in hearing. By the age of 60, approximately one-third of the population encounters hearing loss. By the age of 75, most people experience some degree of hearing impairment, gradually losing some auditory capabilities and sound memories.
Typically, young and middle-aged individuals who don't notice hearing issues in their daily lives don't need regular hearing checks. However, two groups are advised to undergo hearing checks:
Individuals over 50 years old
Hearing is a lifelong gift, but around the age of 50, it may start to decline. By the age of 60, approximately one-third of people experience hearing loss, and by 75, most have some degree of hearing impairment. This is because various organs in the body, including the auditory organs in the ears and even the auditory centers in the brain, start aging. The result is that it becomes more challenging to hear softer sounds or understand them clearly.
Therefore, individuals over 50 are recommended to undergo annual hearing checks for early detection and diagnosis.
Age-Related Hearing Loss: Unable to Hear High-Pitched Sounds
Understanding words becomes difficult at the initial stage of hearing loss. The affected individual can generally hear sounds but struggles to discern words, especially in environments with significant background noise, such as restaurants. They may unconsciously speak louder than usual.
The presence of ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and an inability to hear high-pitched sounds may also indicate age-related hearing loss.
When Should I Seek an Ear Exam?
If you experience the following, you should consider getting an ear examination:
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
- Increasing the volume of the television beyond your usual level.
- Missing parts of conversations regularly.
- Experiencing ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- People telling you that you speak too loudly.
Can Age-Related Hearing Loss be Reversed? Is it Treatable?
Age-related hearing loss cannot be reversed because it results from the degeneration of sensory cells due to aging. However, it can be effectively treated with the use of hearing aids and other communication devices.
How Can I Prevent or Delay Age-Related Hearing Loss?
Take care of your ears and practice ear and hearing care, including:
- Protecting your ears from excessively loud noises.
- Avoiding inserting anything into your ears or using any liquids unless prescribed by a healthcare professional.
- Seeking immediate medical attention if you experience ear pain or discharge.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise to prevent diseases like hypertension and diabetes, which can lead to hearing loss.
- Avoiding smoking.
My parents have hearing loss. What should I consider when talking to them?
When speaking to someone with hearing loss, ensure that:
- You face them while talking.
- Your face is not in shadow or backlight.
- You don't have anything in your mouth while speaking.
- Your speech is clear but not overly loud.
- You minimize background noise, such as turning off the TV or radio.
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