Will I go deaf like my parents?

My late mother and father both became quite deaf in their seventies and it caused them a lot of discomfort in their final years. I remember them having some difficulty with hearing aids. I’m 55 now. Is it inevitable that I will also lose my hearing? Is there a hereditary element to hearing loss?

Avril

Sound is the way most of us receive life’s narrative. That is, until age-related hearing loss starts messing with the volume. High-pitched voices get harder to understand; phone calls are more difficult to decipher. The stories become muddled. Frustration grows.

There are many reasons why hearing loss and deafness happen. Loud noise, illness, medications such as hormone replacement therapies – all can play a part in a person’s losing the ability to process sounds.

Aging, however, remains a leading contender.

“It’s really something that affects every family with older relatives,” says audiologist Dolores Madden of Hidden Hearing.

It took nine years to complete a University of South Florida formal study, but last month the University’s Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research linked age-related hearing loss to a protein-producing gene in the inner ear. Mutated versions of the gene make the ear unable to translate sounds into nerve impulses interpreted by the brain.

People with a family history of hearing loss can can be tested — and warned — years earlier if that one gene isn’t just right, says the USF study, published in the journal Hearing Research in October.

The research also takes a significant step past what’s already known about how aging changes the inner ear. That includes the understanding that older people should be concerned about damage or death to the tiny hairs inside the ear, which are essential to catching sound waves.

This knowledge might nudge some to take more care with their hearing earlier in life. They might decide to wear headphones while mowing the lawn, or avoid standing too close to speakers at a rock concert. ”If you do know, you can take more precautions,” Madden says. ” The earlier someone is diagnosed and treated for hearing loss, the better, for all concerned. Hidden Hearing offer free hearing evaluations and it is fast and simple to do.”

You should be aware that modern digital hearing aids are now smaller and more discrete than ever, with greater power to deliver better sound quality using computer processing and multidirectional microphones. The difficulties your parents have had in the past may have been with older hearing-aid models that didn’t deliver the standard of hearing care of their modern equivalents.

You can book a hearing test free of charge at any of Hidden Hearing’s 60 clinics nationwide. Freephone 1800 370 000or visit www.hiddenhearing.ie.

By Edel Rooney

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