It’s a simple question. You’re at a party enjoying some adult time with friends and family, but something’s not quite right. Even though you are in a room full of people, you feel like you’re standing alone. Why? For one thing, you might only hear about every third word of the conversation. If the person talking to you has a high-pitched voice, you’ll pick up even fewer words. Is it possible that everyone at this party has developed a serious mumble? What are the odds?
Slim, unfortunately, this probably isn’t an epidemic of mumbles. The more likely explanation is your hearing isn’t what it used to be and that’s interfering with your party joy. It’s also a fair guess that this is an ongoing problem, too. Maybe you notice that same mumble while at the grocery store or at the farmer’s market.
Age-related hearing issues tend to rear their ugly head first in noisy environments. With everyone talking at once and maybe even music playing in the background, you’ll be struggling. The first step is to educate yourself about age-related hearing loss and what you can do to combat it, so you can enjoy your next party without feeling like a loner.
What is Age-Related Hearing Loss?
Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is a condition often associated with people between the ages of 65 and 74, but it starts much younger. Simply put, the cause is natural wear and tear on the nerve cells in the ears. These cells send electrical impulses to the brain that it translates into the sound you hear.
Sound actually comes in waves. Those waves enter the ear canal and travel to the inner ear for processing. That puts stress on the cells, so after about 50 or 60 years, they start to break down, especially for individuals who spend their life exposed to loud noises. Maybe you drove for the last 20 years with the windows down and the radio up or have been wearing earbuds to listen to music since they first hit the market.
It’s these little things that put stress on the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. After years of dedicated service, they can no longer function and that makes hearing more difficult. Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition, as well, meaning it starts small and grows worse over time. By age 65, most people start to notice a change, but it starts earlier in life.
Can You Slow the Process?
There is no way to reverse the process. Once these cells suffer damage, you can’t repair them, but you can take better care of your ears to slow the process down and may even save some of your hearing. If you are frequently exposed to loud noises, either at home or on the job, take steps to protect your ears. Lose the headphones and earbuds, for example.
Look into ear protection if there is noise you can’t get away from like the lawnmower or equipment on the job. What you do now will matter later on, so it’s important to treat your ears like delicate instruments because that’s exactly what they are — these mechanisms represent some of the most delicate parts of the human body.
What About the Party?
There are things you can do to improve your party time, too. For one thing, face the people who you are talking with to improve your chances of hearing what they are saying. Don’t be shy about your hearing problem, either. Just be open and honest with your friends. Tell them you are having a problem understanding what they say. That little tidbit of information is enough to get them to slow down when speaking and maybe turn up the volume a bit.
The best course of action to take, though, is to get your hearing checked. If you are struggling to hear at a party, you’re struggling in everyday life, too. The sooner you find out what is going on, the sooner you can do something about it. If the answer is an age-related hearing condition, a professional hearing test will tell you how much of your hearing is affected and whether hearing aids might make you the life of the party once again.