Study: New Data Shows Difference In Sound Sensitivity In Age Groups

Recent research has shown that hearing capabilities in adults do gradually decrease as we age, and that ultimately, it’s true that it gets harder to hear in noisy situations the older you get. According to neuroscientists from Western University, the way younger adults respond to sounds is different than the way older adults do.

In this blog post, we’ll go over exactly what these neuroscientists discovered in their research, and how our brains become sensitive over time, which leads to hearing challenges in older adults. If you’re looking for a qualified audiologist in Calgary, reach out to our hearing professionals at Audiology Innovations. We can provide you with an array of hearing loss resources and schedule a hearing evaluation. Contact us for more information.

Continue reading below to learn more about this study conducted by BrainsCAN scholar Björn Herrmann and Western Research Chair Ingrid Johnsrude.


Herrmann and Johnsrude worked with participants in their 20s and participants in their 60s that have clinically normal hearing, examining their auditory cortex responses.

What did they find? In a nutshell, they determined that the participants had different responses to both soft and loud noises, usually the older audience having a harder time adapting to sounds in their environment.

For example, in a loud environment like a rock concert or a professional sporting event, the younger participants’ brains were less sensitive to relatively quiet sounds, according to data provided by Western University, meaning they could pick up on relevant sounds without any distractions of other less relevant sounds.

The older participants, however, had over-sensitive reactions in the same loud environment. They could hear both quiet and loud sounds and had a harder time tuning out and irrelevant sounds; thus, making it harder to hear in noisy situations.

“When the sound environment is loud, the brain activity in younger adults loses sensitivity to really quiet sounds because they’re not that important,” Herrmann said in the study. “Whereas older individuals still stay sensitive to these relatively quiet sounds, even though they’re not important at the time.”



What are some key takeaways from this study? We’ll break it down for you below:

  • Younger adults have an easier time focusing in on certain noises in loud environments.
  • Older adults can have over-sensitivity in loud environments (like a noisy restaurant) and can find certain sounds to be more annoying or distracting than others.
  • Your auditory system should have the ability to adjust to your environment, and if it can’t, your auditory system is off.
  • Hearing loss affects 40 percent of individuals who are older than 50 years old.
  • BrainsCAN is furthering their research to understand how over-sensitivity in older adults affects neurophysiological changes in other regions of the brain.


More and more research is supporting why hearing in noise becomes harder and harder as we age. At Audiology Innovations, our audiologist in Calgary and other hearing experts perform a “listening in noise” test as part of our hearing assessments. From there, we can provide patients with evidence-based suggestions to assist them if this is a particular challenge for them.

Book your hearing evaluation today for either yourself or a loved one. You can reach us by giving us a call at (403) 252-4722 or by completing our form online.