Age Related Hearing Loss
Age-related hearing loss affects up to half of people over the age of 65. The onset of hearing loss for some can occur before the age of 65, which can affect the ability to work, leading to higher rates of unemployment. With our society’s aging demographics, age-related hearing loss is set to become an increasing problem that can cause social isolation, depression and perhaps even an acceleration of dementia. Furthermore, with so many people now listening to personal listening devices for extended periods at high volume, the problem is likely to increase, with earlier onset becoming more common. Consequently, the impact of hearing loss amongst those still in work is increasing and is beginning to be studied more widely.
The key complaint for those suffering from age-related hearing loss is difficulty understanding speech, in particular in noisy environments, or where several people are talking at the same time, such as at social gatherings. Understanding speech requires not only that the speech is heard, but also importantly that the different components of speech can be distinguished (for example, the difference between a “b” and “p” sound). These components can be very fast and rely on optimal function of auditory processing mechanisms in the brain as well as on reception by hair cells in the cochlea.
With aging, hair cells are lost and the signal reaching the brain reduces. Combined with this, a deterioration of central auditory processing and the decline of cognitive capacity can add to the problem. Evidence that age-related hearing loss is due as much to problems in the brain as to loss of hair cells in the cochlea comes from the finding that some people who have near perfect audiograms may still struggle to understand speech in environments where there is a lot of background noise.
There are no current treatment options. Hearing aids or cochlear implants can help some sufferers, although often interpreting speech remains a challenge. Autifony is developing a novel drug, AUT00063, that may help to treat people with age related hearing loss, in particular for understanding speech in a noisy environment. The first clinical trial to explore the possible efficacy of AUT00063 in people with age related hearing loss has now started and is recruiting in the US: Age Related Hearing Loss Clinical Trial.