Hear it Like Your Grandmother - Simulating Age Related Hearing Loss

As we age, our auditory sensitivity often declines, and the average decline is perhaps a lot more than you might think! Use the buttons below to start or stop a little stand-up comedy video clip, and to select to hear it the way it would sound to an average elderly person some 60, 70, or 80 years old, or someone completely deaf. You can also add "multi-speaker babble" background noise. Hearing the comedian is, unsurprisingly, more difficult in the presence of background noise, but it is even harder with old age hearing loss on top of the noise.

Background Noise

If you are fairly young and your hearing is good, you may be surprised, even appalled, at how much worse the simulated "elderly hearing" is. Is it really that bad? The answer to that is: it depends. First of all, people vary considerably in how much they are affected by old age hearing loss, but this simulation is based on data from a study of hearing in elderly Americans, and it reflects the average hearing loss seen in elderly ladies in South Carolina, and, for still unknown reasons the average hearing loss in men in this study was even worse! Also, this little demo is only a rather "rough and ready" approximation of what old age hearing loss is like. All it does is to use digital filters to reduce the sound in varying frequency bands according to the average loss of sensitivity. In this figure below, the average age related loss according to Schmiedt (2010) is shown with little circles, while the solid lines show the filter transfer functions of the digital filters I have constructed for this demo.

average hearing loss graph

There are additional problems that often arise with hearing in old age ("broadening of auditory filters" and "recruitment"), and which this demo does not capture. (There are also more sophisticated and accurate hearing loss simulators but they would be difficult to implement in a web browser, and the loss of sensitivity is by far the largest and most important effect, so as a simulation of what your hearing is likely to be like when you are old, it is not far off).

The upshot of all this is: chances are 50/50 that your hearing in old age is likely to be if anything worse than this demo would suggest, and that, by the time you are 70, chances are that you will need hearing aids in order to take part in social activities. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!)

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