Different age groups respond to sound differently, researchers say
By Katrina Caruso
Younger and older adults experience sound differently. Older people can become oversensitive to sound, according to new research from Western University, and it’s not a question of how well they hear but of how their brains react to what they hear.
In their study, the results of which were published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers looked at two groups: men and women in their 20s and in their 60s. Participants all had clinically normal hearing. The study looked at how the participants’ brains responsed and adjusted to soft and loud sounds. The older group wasn’t able to adapt as well as the younger group.
In a loud environment such as a music concert, the younger participants’ brains showed that they were able to adapt and were less sensitive to softer or quieter sounds such as nearby conversation. Instead, they were able focus on the louder sounds, such as a drum solo, in their environment—their brains could identify which sounds to focus on and which were irrelevant. The older participants’ brains, however, had a more difficult time disregarding the softer or quieter sounds: they were more sensitive to the loud environment as a whole.
This explains why mature people can find some places, such as a a crowded restaurant or nightclub, unnerving or uncomfortable. This oversensitivity may also lead to hearing problems and a tendency to be distracted more easily or even overwhelmed.
Almost 40% of people over 50 years old have some form of hearing loss on top of these sensitivities to sounds, so if you’ve noticed that your hearing has changed over the years, you’re not alone.
Researchers at Western University will go on to investigate how this hearing oversensitivity in older people might affect other parts of the brain.