Most hearing loss in older adults is gradual in onset and involves damaging hair cells in the inner ear that transmit sound information to the brain. This form of hearing loss, called presbycusis, is irreversible. Most people with this condition have high-frequency hearing loss that makes it difficult for them to hear a conversation when there’s background noise.

Although age-related hearing loss due to damage to the hair cells in the inner ear is not reversible, some older adults with hearing problems also have some degree of conductive hearing loss, which may be correctable. Conductive hearing loss usually involves problems with the outer or middle ear rather than the inner ear. Some common causes of conductive hearing impairment include wax accumulation in the inner ear, a foreign body or tumor obstructing the ear canal, fluid accumulation behind the eardrum or a torn eardrum. These problems are often treatable.

Because hearing loss in older people may be a combination of irreversible, age-related hearing loss and conductive hearing problems that are reversible, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you suspect you or a family member has a hearing-related problem.

Getting help is important for another reason – a study carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center showed that people with hearing loss are at 40% higher risk for developing dementia relative to those with normal hearing. Not to mention, older adults with hearing impairment are at greater risk for social isolation and depression.

Getting hearing testing and a hearing aid, when necessary, can be a life changer at any age. It feels good to reconnect with the world again and finally hear what’s going on. Regardless of the cause of hearing loss, most hearing impairment can be improved with the help of a hearing aid or other intervention.


Monahan, R., & Siemenski, L. (2014). Hearing loss – undiagnosed and undertreated.

Today’s Geriatric Medicine, 7(3), 14.