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The Unspoken Difficulties of Progressive Hearing Loss

The Unspoken Difficulties of Progressive Hearing Loss

Progressive hearing loss is aptly named. It can come on so subtly, and advance so slowly that people don’t realize what is happening until it begins having a major impact on their lives. If an aging loved one has ever experienced progressive hearing loss, you might have seen how difficult it was for them to admit they weren’t hearing well, even when it was obvious to you.

The Truth of the Matter

Socially and stereotypically, progressive hearing loss is often seen as an unfortunate sign of old age, making it harder for people to come to terms with what is happening. It can be a very emotional subject. Actually, however, most people will have some form of hearing loss after the age of 50. By age 65 and over, about half of men and 1/3 of women have enough trouble hearing that social communication becomes difficult. So while progressive hearing loss is indeed a symptom of growing older, it’s more common than most people think. It can also strike people of any age. Sadly, however, that doesn’t make it any less difficult to deal with.

What Causes Progressive Hearing Loss

Progressive hearing loss is caused by degeneration of the inner ear, which is often but not always age related. In its earliest stages, degeneration results in less sensitivity to high-frequency sounds (doorbells, watch alarms). To the sufferer, it can also seem like sounds meld together or people are always mumbling. There may be a persistent ringing sensation in the ears. Someone experiencing any of these symptoms should see a hearing specialist before the problem becomes severe.


  • Loss of hearing beginning subtly, after exposure to loud noises or advancing age
  • Lessening sensitivity to high-frequency sounds, making them difficult to hear
  • Difficulty hearing during telephone conversations
  • Difficulty understanding words during conversation, feeling that people are mumbling
  • Struggling to hear those around you among crowds or background noise
  • Having to turn up the volume when watching TV, listening to music, etc.

As you can imagine, suffering from these physical symptoms can be frustrating, disheartening, even depressing. Many people will endure progressive hearing loss in silence or try to conceal the fact that they aren’t hearing well, but get them to an audiologist if you can. Often, once a patient experiences the difference when testing hearing aids, they are much more amicable to actually getting some; especially when they see how small and unnoticeable they can be.

What Else Can You Do?

When talking to someone with hearing loss, try to speak clearly and more distinctly. Shorten your sentences and take care to not let words run together. Speak louder, but don’t shout, as that usually distorts your words. You might need to make a little extra effort to make sure the hearing-impaired person is included in the conversation, and is close enough to hear. Cut out as much background noise as possible, looking for a quiet place to talk.

If you or someone you love is suffering from progressive hearing loss, it’s important to see a doctor to ensure there isn’t a deeper medical issue in play. And the sooner the problem is treated, the easier and fuller life can be.

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