Presbycusis; An Examination of High Frequency Hearing Loss & Impact on Society

Presbycusis, also known as age related hearing loss, is generally a sensorineural hearing loss involving deterioration of the inner ear nerves or the inner ear hairs. Presbycusis is known to begin, in adults, as early as the mid 20’s. With this knowledge, technology has expanded to create high pitch frequency ring tones which are impossible for older adults to hear. The result is controversial in that it allows businesses to emit a sound high enough to ward off teenagers from their premises but also permits teenagers to download a cell phone ringer which is impossible for teachers and parents to hear. Understanding the types of hearing loss, the levels at which individuals generally hear sound, and the latest technology, will enable teachers, parents and businesses to better equip in the latest high frequency technology.

During normal conversation, sound is emitted at 50 to 60 decibels with whispers generally as low as 20 decibels. For many older individuals, hearing loss results in the inability to gradually hear the tones below 20 decibels and, from that point, gradually deteriorate to a profound level of hearing loss thus requiring hearing aides or hearing amplification devices. In fact, individuals with hearing loss in excess of 70 decibels are considered to be in the severe or profound hearing loss state.

What is important to understand is most hearing loss can be corrected. With two types of hearing loss possible, conductive and sensorineural, your physician will first conduct a physical examination, audiogram and speech recognition test to determine what, if any, combination of these two hearing losses has occurred. The result will determine the level and type of hearing loss implicated and what, if any, hearing devices are required.

Conversely, for businesses, the loss of hearing, in adults, is quite an advantage. In an effort to discourage teenagers from loitering around the premises of parking lots, schools and stores, many school districts and business owners have begun to install the high frequency sound devices which emit a high frequency sound generally only audible to the ears of individuals under the age of 20. The sound, over a period of time, is of such an annoyance that it deters individuals, under the age of 20, from remaining within hearing range of the sound. For individuals over the age of 20, the sound inaudible and, thus, does not affect the shoppers and school administrators.

To the disadvantage of school administration, however, this same high frequency sound has been pirated and placed as a down loadable cellular ring tone. The impact in schools is significant. With cell phone use prohibited in most educational environments, teenagers have learned this high pitch frequency sound, inaudible to adults, can be used as a ring tone to indicate an incoming text message or phone call without the educator even aware the text messaging is taking place. At present, many school administrators are addressing the concerns of phone usage in the classroom setting in addition to creating technology which will detect those same high pitch frequency ring tones in the classroom.

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