Photo credit: James M. Shelley licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
According to recent research by the Gallup organization 47% of 65- to 80-year olds who listened to loud music when they were young have hearing loss. That cohort are the Woodstock Generation, for whom loud rock concerts were a way of life.
But now, along with their fans, many of the musicians from the bands of that era, e.g., Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend, have retired because they suffer from painful and incurable auditory conditions caused by noise damage to their ears, like tinnitus or hyperacusis, or they have severe noise-induced hearing loss.
It’s the end of an era. There is no cure for hearing loss, and the only treatment is hearing aids, as cochlear implants are reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired. What’s more, hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, dementia, loss of balance, and cardiovascular disease.
Who’d have thought that the “peace & love” kids from the ‘60s & ‘70s would end up this way?
Ironically, in 1969, then-Surgeon General William H. Stewart actually tried to get noise exposure classified as a public health problem. In fact, he helped organize the first international meeting on noise and health. Now, 50 years later, the nation is awakening to what looks like a growing epidemic of hearing loss.
These new Gallup poll findings (funded by a hearing aid company) are consistent with recent federal studies. The sponsor of the Gallup research has a simple and direct message: Buy our hearing aids. But be warned, hearing aids amplify sound but they do a poor job of improving speech comprehension in noisy environments.
So if you are a member of the Woodstock generation, protect what hearing you have left and avoid exposure to loud sounds.
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.