Why is it that young people can hear sounds on a higher frequency, but older people can not?

655 views
0

Why is it that young people can hear sounds on a higher frequency, but older people can not?

In: Biology

As you age, the little bits in your ear wear out and break down. The smallest bits break first, and those smaller bits are what pick up higher pitches.

Interestingly, the same thing can happen at a faster rate causing early onset hard-of-hearing. I was diagnosed at 12, and 16 years later I have the approximate range of a 70 year old.

EDIT: For more detail, the “little bits” are called cilia. They’re tiny hairs in your inner ear that have nerves attached at the roots. When you hear sound, it starts a long Rube Goldberg process where it vibrates the eardrum which jiggles the three tiniest bones in your body which hammers on the cochlea (if you look at a diagram, that’s the part that looks like a snail). The cochlea contains a fluid that, when it vibrates, in turn vibrates the hairs, which send signals to the brain. Hairs in different locations pick up different frequencies, and the ones that die first tend to be the high frequency ones.
This is also the same system that helps you balance. That cochlear fluid and hair combo team help you determine “down” as a direction. Part of why old people also have worse balance, as their hearing goes so does their gravisense.

The higher frequency sounds are the first to be damaged by listening to loud noises a lot. In today’s world, we are exposed to a lot of loud noises from music at parties to vehicles on the street, so starting at a pretty young age, we lose hearing due to damage to the nerves in the ears and it affects the highest frequencies first. This is called sensory-neural hearing loss.