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Recent Research and News

American Adults Hear Better Than They Did 40 Years Ago

Three generations of women having a conversation
You probably hear better than your grandparents did at
your age.

While it’s true that genes, loud noise, some medicines, and other factors can cause our hearing to worsen over the years, the good news is that you probably hear better than your grandparents did at your age. That’s what researchers from the NIDCD, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have found after comparing the results of two hearing surveys conducted roughly 40 years apart. The findings are published in the December 2010 issue of Ear and Hearing.

The researchers compared hearing data gathered from the National Health Examination Survey I (NHES I) in 1959-1962 with those from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1999-2004. Although the testing equipment and methods have changed somewhat over the years, the goal was essentially the same: to find the softest sound levels at which randomly selected subjects between the ages of 25 and 64 could hear a range of frequencies, from 500 to 6000 hertz (Hz) for the earlier survey and from 500 to 8000 Hz for the later one.

The scientists discovered that men and women today across the age spectrum have better hearing than their decades-older counterparts primarily in the upper frequencies (2,000, 3,000, 4,000, and 6,000 Hz), while being roughly the same for the middle frequency of 1000 Hz. Hearing loss in the upper frequencies makes it especially difficult to discern speech sounds when there’s lots of background noise.

Read more on the NIDCD website.