It may be gradual and easy to miss for awhile, but it has a name. Presbycusis is a type of hearing loss that is a natural part of aging and is usually caused by, for lack of a better analogy, parts of your ear wearing out.
Presbycusis a type of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) — also known as Labyrinthine hearing loss — that is defined as a lessening of the functioning of the inner ear. Usually, it’s the hair cells that are a vital part of the hearing mechanism, though sometimes the nerve pathways between ear and brain can also be the culprit. Simply put, damage to the inner ear that is simply caused by aging is presbycusis, which is the most likely culprit in permanent hearing loss.
The first signs are usually a difficulty hearing soft sounds, especially those at the higher end of the spectrum. The /s/ and /th/ sounds are often early victims.
Slowly the issue will move down the auditory spectrum and more and more sounds will become more difficult to hear, especially in noisy environments. Eventually, it will become obvious that conversations are harder to follow, as other people seem to be mumbling.
Again, this is a common condition. For those over age 65, the rate of presbycusis is between 30 to 40 percent. There’s no way to treat the condition in a way that restores hearing to what it was earlier in life — before the changes to the inner ear took hold. The best course is to have a professional hearing test conducted, which can pinpoint the parts of the spectrum where hearing has suffered, and develop a treatment strategy based on that baseline.