New study identifies potential cause of age-related hearing loss

Some degree of hearing loss is an inevitable attendant of the aging process. First goes the ability to hear high-frequency sounds like the voices of young children, then our ability to detect consonants like f, k, p, t, and s fail us. Eventually,  the damage endured by our stereocilia (the tiny hair-like cells located in our cochlea) becomes beyond the point of repair.  Nearly 33% of people over the age of 65 are currently suffering from disabling hearing loss, though a  biological explanation has only just now been identified…potentially at any rate.

Professor Frances Williams and Dr. Sally Dawson of King’s College London recently published interesting finds in the American Journal of Human Genetics,  lending light to the psychological process that informs sensorineural hearing loss.  In addition to isolating genes previously known to cause deafness in children, the researchers identified novel genetic markers that contribute to age-related hearing loss.

44 Independent Associated Genomic Loci for Self-Reported Adult Hearing Difficulty

The authors derived their new report from a biobank containing genetic data from over 250,000 participants between the ages of 40 and 69. A questionnaire administered to participants of the biobank highlighted genes that govern important auditory pathways. This means the degradation is not just influenced by hereditability.  Before the study, there were only five genes that were studied to play a role in the pathology of age-related hearing loss. The new report presents a ninefold increase to the established genetic bio-predictors. As it stands hearing aids are the only treatment method for elderly patients. Unforntalty, reports of discomfort see many of these abandon their devices completely in favor of impaired hearing.

“These findings are incredibly significant. We believe they will speed up the discovery of treatments to slow or even halt the progressive loss of hearing as we get older, something which happens to at least 70% of over 70-year-olds. This research was funded by us thanks to the generosity of our supporters and we know from people with hearing loss that being able to hear well again would completely transform their lives. The identification of these genes linked to age-related hearing loss throws open the door to many new lines of research into treatments,” Dr. Ralph Holme, Executive Director of Research at Action told Science Daily.