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Age-related changes to sound and light

Physical dexterity is not the only negative change with ageing. There are also effects on our voice, sight, and hearing. Typically our sensitivity to sound falls by 1,000 times (30 dB) between the ages of 20 to 70. This is not just a volume loss, as there is a much steeper fall-off at high frequencies, so sounds (and music) change in character. Many older people will fail to hear birdsong and noises that are apparently loud for the young. This is a standard ageing effect, but for the modern generations, it is exacerbated by conscious exposure to high sound levels. There is therefore an unfilled market niche as the sound electronics from mobile phones, radio, and TV need compensation for this change across the frequency range, but it is rarely available on standard equipment. Merely increasing the volume is inadequate.

As a musician, I recognize that my hearing is similarly showing signs of ageing. It is declining both in terms of loudness and high frequencies, so music has changed in character over the years, and for my CDs I now use a higher volume setting. At one time my responses were better: I clearly remember reading a book when I heard the sound of a moderate-size spider walking across the wooden floor 10 feet away from me. I was then in my 30s, so actually past peak sensitivity. Modern 30-year-olds may never even have experienced such sound sensitivity, as high-intensity music via headphones or speakers, visits to discos and all the other technologically driven sound systems, as well as city traffic, etc. rapidly cause permanent hearing loss. In terms of sensitivity, many teenagers now have hearing that is inferior to the 70-year-olds of earlier rural generations. This technology-driven loss of an essential aspect of a crucial human sense is indeed one of the darkest sides of modern technologies.

One should be critical of hearing loss that is caused by human activity and technology, as it is not a new phenomenon. For example, it has long been known that those who worked in noisy Victorian factories could rapidly lose their hearing. Legislation has helped at the industrial level, but no legislation can stop our self-destruction from listening to excessively loud music played through headphones or speakers.

 
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