Sensitivity to Sound As We Age

Sensitivity to Sound As We Age

We are all aware that as we get older, our perception and experience of sounds change. Age is a natural contributing factor to hearing decline and we are learning more about it every day. Through research and ever rapidly increasing technology, there are breakthroughs in our understanding and betterment of our hearing process. It is important to know that our population is increasingly affected by the health and maintenance of our hearing.

Younger populations are beginning to understand the importance of encompassing hearing health as part of their overall health. Currently aging populations now have access to better hearing health through education and empowerment of technological advancements and progressive medical assessments and treatments.

What are the effects of aging on our hearing ability? One important symptom we will explore is our sensitivity to the types of sounds we experience. It’s quite common that many of us, as a youngster, have all been told to “Turn it down!” by an adult. One of the reasons for that is due to the different ways we experience sound at different ages!

Research on Sound Sensitivity

At Western University in Canada, a study conducted by neuroscientists researched the link between sound, sensitivity, and age. The results we can draw from the research help to give us insight into how older people have negative reactions to certain sounds in certain situations. What they set out to do was to analyze the responses of the hearing organ of people from different age groups. The participants of the study ranged from 20 to 60 years of age.

Researchers determined through their findings that our sensitivity to sounds increase as we get older. The younger participants, when immersed in a loud environment had the ability to tune out or tune down the sounds that were not relevant to the experience, for example, placing the importance of the scream of a rock singer as opposed to the depth of the bass guitar.

The older participants did not have the capability to differentiate between “soft” and “loud” and are thereby easily overwhelmed by all sounds. This is why an environment can be so overwhelming for older people when they are in a restaurant or airport or social gatherings. Björn Herrmann, lead writer on the study, states, “When the sound environment is loud, the brain activity in younger adults loses sensitivity to really quiet sounds because they’re not that important. Whereas older individuals still stay sensitive to these relatively quiet sounds, even though they’re not important at the time.”

Filtering and Age

What are the challenges that older adults face when it comes to their sensitivity to sound? As stated before, the “soft” and “loud” sounds were easier for the younger participants to manage as opposed to the older participants. The latter had a loss in the ability to tune out irrelevant sounds as well.

The study showed that the adaptability for the older participants to differentiate or filter, and adjust to sounds that were relevant had diminished. This resulted in an increase of sensitivity for older adults to all sounds showing a decrease in the ability of the auditory nerve to adapt to changing and or, relevant sounds.

Björn Herrmann also states, “We looked at younger and older individuals who have clinically normal hearing and we looked at how the brain’s ability to adjust its sensitivity to sound levels is affected by aging…What we observed is that older individuals don’t adapt as well to their sound environment.”

Putting all this information together, we can now understand why it is harder, for instance, for an older adult to carry on a conversation if they are in a crowded environment with many sources of soft and loud sounds permeating their ears. It is in fact too much auditory input at one time, so having a normal chat in a room with loud music or TV becomes irritating to the older person. To them, it can be overwhelming and even disorienting.


At Audibel, we understand the needs of those that are experiencing issues with their hearing. It is a complex process and our purpose is helping people sustain their natural hearing ability, and why we are here for any questions you may have. With your first appointment, we can begin your path to wellness for better hearing health to benefit yourself and those that you love. We look forward to your call!