Sensitivity to Sound As We Age

Sensitivity to Sound as We Age

In Age-related Hearing Loss by Candace Wawra

Candace Wawra

When Old Man Rogers used to yell at the neighborhood kids to “quit that racket,” it may not have been his grumpy attitude after all. His ears may have simply become more sensitive to sounds as he aged. Researchers out of Canada have recently published a study that explores the way that different people at different ages respond to and process sounds. The results may surprise you – and may make you rethink your memories of that grumpy old neighbor!

All About the Study

The researchers studied two sets of participants – those in their 20s and those in their 60s – to compare how the different groups process sounds. Regardless if they belonged to the younger or older group, each participant was in the range of clinically normal hearing. The researchers studied the auditory cortex responses of participants in both groups. This means that they monitored the way the brain processed, reacted to, and responded to both loud and quiet sounds.

The study concluded that participants in the older group were less able to process out irrelevant sounds. The lead researcher on the study, Björn Herrmann, stated, “What we observed is that older individuals don’t adapt as well to their sound environment.” The brains of people in the younger group were able to instantaneously identify and “tune out” less relevant sounds in loud environments than older individuals, who remained sensitive to all sounds, making the overall experience louder and less pleasant.

The example used by the researchers was that of a rock concert. During a noisy experience such as this, people in the younger group were able to ignore the irrelevant and “quieter” noises happening around them, and instead focus on the important sounds – such as the notes the musicians were playing. On the other hand, the brains of the older group were trying to process all of the sounds at once, making the experience seem overly noisy and unpleasant.

Applications in the Real World

Hermann explained, “It’s a fundamental property of the auditory system to be able to adjust really fast to any environment a person goes into. If you cannot do that anymore, then in each situation your auditory system might be a little off. This means older individuals may be easily distracted and overwhelmed by sounds, or find them too loud,” ( This could be why older people seem to be more likely than younger people to find crowded restaurants as too loud or distracting. It may also explain why older people tend to find more sounds annoying than their younger counterparts.

Sensitivity to Sound or Hearing Loss?

Avoiding social situations that you once loved is a common sign of hearing loss. As our hearing deteriorates, holding conversations with multiple people at a time or hearing speech in noisy environments becomes more difficult and frustrating. After learning the results of this study, it may be difficult to determine if you are experiencing hearing loss or are simply becoming more sensitive to sounds and less able to process out useless noises around you. It is impossible to determine this without a hearing screen conducted by a hearing healthcare professional.

Do You Experience Early Signs of Hearing Loss?

Avoiding social situations is not the only early sign of hearing loss, and because hearing loss is so gradual, it is often difficult for us to identify in our loved ones, or ourselves. It is important to look for the early signs of hearing loss, as treatment has been found to have profoundly positive effects in the lives of people with hearing loss. Some of the most common early signs are tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in one or both of the ears), a feeling that you can hear people when they speak to you but cannot understand them, or complaints from friends or family that you are not listening to them. If you experience these or any other early signs of hearing loss, feel free to reach out to our friendly team today. We would love an opportunity to speak with you and hopefully walk with you on your journey to better hearing and an improved quality of life.

Hearing Wellness Solutions

At Hearing Wellness Solutions of Springfield, we provide advanced testing techniques, modern equipment, and verification on your hearing prescription to ensure that you get the most out of your investment in hearing wellness. Our Services include hearing testing, hearing aid fittings, hearing aid maintenance and more. We service the Springfield area, including Ozark, Nixa, Republic, Willard, Rogersville, Strafford and Aurora. Contact us today to set up an appointment!