Hearing Loss Across Generations: How Hearing Problems Affect Different Age Groups
Do you still think hearing aids are only for the elderly? We’re sorry to inform you, but in truth, the number of Australians aged 26 and under with hearing loss is steadily increasing.
In today’s article, we’ll explore how hearing loss affects different generations and what factors commonly contribute to hearing health issues amongst different age groups.
We’ve already busted the myth that hearing loss is something that only affects those aged 60 plus – but if you’ve missed out on our exploration of common hearing loss types and causes, why don’t you revisit our article “Why Hearing Loss Doesn’t Just Affect Old People”.
Approximately one in six Australians have hearing loss. Projections expect this number to double by the year 2050, with one in four Australians expected to have hearing loss. This increase in hearing loss is mainly due to an ageing population but also caused by greater exposure to dangerous noise levels among young Australians.
The 20th century began with drastic changes in economic, technological and social environments, which also directly influenced the lifestyle of current generations. These changes across generations are known as the birth cohort effect. They are crucial to understanding the key healthcare needs of different generations and developing the appropriate preventative measures.
This is especially important in areas of chronic disability, such as hearing impairments.
While causes of hearing losses can be explained through physiological functions and environmental risk factors, the experiences of hearing loss are shaped by our social environment. Each generation is reacting to social environmental factors in its own ways.
Generations are groups of people which are bound together by common social factors.
We generally categorise generations as follows:
- The Greatest Generation (GI): Born 1901 – 1924
- The Silent Generation: Born 1928 – 1945
- The Baby Boomer Generation: Born 1946 – 1964
- Generation X: Born 1965 – 1980
- Millennials: Born 1981 – 1996
- Generation Z: Born 1997 – 2009
- Generation Alpha: Born 2010 – Present
The trans-generational differences also apply to hearing loss, particularly how different generations deal with hearing loss and go on living with a hearing impairment. So let’s take a closer look at hearing differences in various generations.
The Hearing Differences Amongst Generations
The Greatest and Silent Generation
The Greatest and Silent generations were shaped by events such as The Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. Both generations are known to be traditionalists who value law and order and have high respect for authority. The most common cause of hearing loss for both, even at a young age, is excessive noise exposure. They are also likely to experience presbycusis or age-related hearing loss, which is often gradual and progressive in nature.
These two generations were born in a time before digital technology and thus may have some hesitancy in adopting new technology or may have trouble learning complex features involved in hearing aid and assistive technology readily available nowadays. An example of this includes Bluetooth connectivity, which enables hearing aid wearers to stream calls and music directly from their smartphones into the hearing aids.
Most members of these generations, if alive today, have retired from their occupations but may still be socially active. Previously having less access to hearing health services, they may be hesitant to get help and withdraw socially from family and friends or feel embarrassed about not understanding others. But hearing problems that are ignored, can get worse so it’s important you do seek audiological help as early as possible.
Generation Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers are the demographic cohort born after World War II. The primary causes of hearing loss for this generation are noise-induced damage. Those involved in the Vietnam war also experienced a variety of physical and psychological impacts such as tinnitus and hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure.
Another common cause of hearing loss among Baby Boomers is Ototoxic damage due to psychedelic drug use. This generation was also the first to grow up with a television and smaller compact hearing aids.
As a result, this generation is less averse to modern technology. In addition, some of this population may still be in the workforce and face communication challenges due to reduced hearing.
Born after 1965, this generation saw the emergence of mass media as well as the internet and video games. Generation X also witnessed a rise in chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The connection between overall health and wellbeing, and hearing health, often resulted in individual strife to improve both.
Digital hearing aids were starting to become popular among this group. Now in their early 40s to 60s are beginning to feel the effect of ageing and thus reduced hearing ability. The sudden transition from perfect hearing to struggling to hear in certain environments (such as in background noise, with multiple speakers etc), accompanied by existential struggles of ageing in general can lead to stress and feeling of isolation in this population group.
Large numbers of Generation X are active in the workforce and thus communication, especially in large open-plan offices or in underground mining, can be difficult. When hearing loss has been identified, it’s vital to discuss hearing needs with the employer, who can make changes such as talking in person instead of over the phone, reducing workplace noise, supplying personal protective equipment to further help manage the hearing loss.
Millennials are the epicentre of the age of information, largely having grown up with the internet and social media at their fingertips. Millennials, now in their mid-twenties to late thirties, may be surprised to experience hearing loss. They may view hearing loss as a problem that only affects “older people”.
However, as a result of constant and on-demand audio stimulation, they are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure. Many of today’s young adults grew up listening to loud music or media through personal electronic devices such as iPods, iPads and smartphones at an unsafe volume.
Therefore, this group is prone to temporary hearing damage. Persistent noise exposure may lead to permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss, even in the mild form, can have dramatic impacts on academic and professional achievements, result in low self-confidence and even social isolation.
Many hearing health professionals are delivering educational workshops targeting this population in order to spread awareness about noise-induced hearing loss and ways to prolong hearing health. Noise-induced hearing loss due to live concerts are also a major contributor to permanent hearing loss as well as ringing in the ears among millennials.
Generation Z and Alpha
Born after 1997, Generation Z already has bad habits that put their hearing at risk. Young music lovers have grown up with earbuds and are now starting to explore the clubbing scene. Teenage hearing loss appears to be on the rise, and whilst research found that they are increasingly aware of the risks, young adults still underestimate how easy it is to irreversibly damage your hearing.
Due to rapid advancement in hearing health, the early detection of hearing loss has improved remarkably. The Children’s Health Queensland “Healthy Hearing Program” was first launched in 2004 with the aim of early detection of hearing loss in newborn infants. This early detection of hearing loss and early intervention by the age of 6 months is crucial to an infant’s speech and language development.
Regardless of your age and life experiences, hearing loss can create challenges that may affect your ability to effectively communicate with others. While each generation may react to their hearing loss differently, there is a range of solutions in the form of assistive technologies, hearing aids and cochlear implants, which are accessible to people of all ages.
If you are not sure where to start, contact your nearest Attune Hearing Clinic. Our university qualified Audiologists are always happy to help and answer any questions. Give us a call at 1300 736 702 or book your appointment online!