It has long been accepted that the cause hearing loss is a common health problem that comes with aging, and is caused by sensory hair cells dying in the inner ear. However, new information and research suggests that there could be another factor that results in age-related hearing damage. Hopefully, this means that doctors will soon be able to treat and prevent this loss in older patients with ease.
A study at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine used mice to look at a number of connections between sensory cells in the ear, and nerve cells in the brain. The aging mice increasingly created more of these connections, which the body will use when exposed to loud noise. With this discovery, doctors could know what to look for in order to prevent age-related hearing loss. The new information challenges the traditional wisdom among the scientific community that hearing problems are only caused by dying sensory hair cells. Now, researchers are focusing on the connections between nerve and sensory cells, and how they affect the outer and inner ear.
There are two sets of sensory hair cells in the ear- outer, and inner. They both allow the individual to hear sound, but the outer hair cells amplify the noise. In the Johns Hopkins study, researchers also recorded the incoming and outgoing electrical signals in the mice’s sensory and nerve cells. The nerve cell signals were much stronger in the mice that were older and harder of hearing. This is because the activation of more nerve cells results in a lower amplification in the outer hair cells, making it difficult to hear. Following these recordings of new data, researchers will closely compare the anatomy of the human inner ear with a mouse. Assuming the two are similar enough, scientists can then look for ways to prevent new connections between the nerve and sensory cells in older patients.
Hearing damage is very common for seniors- in fact, over half of the adult population over 65 have some form of it. For most of medical history, this age-related hearing loss has not been very preventable. There are many high-tech and quality hearing aids today that can certainly improve an elderly patient’s hearing significantly. However, with this new study and challenges to the conventional knowledge of sensory and nerve cells, doctors can begin to look for these connections in aging patients. Stopping new connections between the cells from forming could allow the outer ear to amplify normally. This would make communication and understanding one’s surroundings much easier. Hearing aids mostly serve to amplify the noise around us- so if doctors could keep the outer ear from lowering that amplification, not as many seniors would require hearing aids to function in daily life.
This study could be a medical and scientific breakthrough, once researchers are able to further explore the human ear and study the connections between nerve and sensory cells. In the future, that percentage of seniors with hearing loss could see a major decrease, and the standard of living for those over 65 could improve dramatically.