Objective: Pure-tone thresholds for conventional and extended high frequencies were analyzed for 188 older adult human subjects (91 females, 97 males). The objectives were to study longitudinal changes in thresholds as well as the effects of initial threshold levels, age, gender, and noise history on these longitudinal changes.
Design: At the time of entry into the study, subjects' ages ranged from 60 to 81 years, with a mean age of 68 years. Subjects had between 2 and 21 visits (mean = 9.81 visits) over a period of 3 to 11.5 years (mean = 6.40 years). Conventional pure-tone thresholds at 0.25 to 8 kHz were measured during most visits. Extended high-frequency (EHF) thresholds at 9 to 18 kHz were measured every 2 to 3 years. The slope of a linear regression was used to estimate the rate of change in pure-tone thresholds at 0.25 to 18 kHz for each ear. A questionnaire was used to identify those subjects with a positive noise history.
Results: The average rate of change in thresholds was 0.7 dB per year at 0.25 kHz, increasing gradually to 1.2 dB per year at 8 kHz and 1.23 dB per year at 12 kHz. The rate of change for thresholds increased significantly with age, at 0.25 to 3, 10, and 11 kHz for females and at 6 kHz for males. After adjusting for age, females had a significantly slower rate of change at 1 kHz but a significantly faster rate of change at 6 to 12 kHz than males. For 0.25 and 1 kHz, subjects with more hearing loss at higher frequencies had a faster rate of change at these frequencies, whereas for 6 and 8 kHz, subjects with more hearing loss at mid and high frequencies had a slower rate of change at these frequencies. The rates of threshold change for subjects with a positive noise history were not statistically different from those with a negative noise history.
Conclusions: On average, hearing threshold increased approximately 1 dB per year for subjects age 60 and over. Age, gender, and initial threshold levels can affect the rate of change in thresholds. Older female subjects (> or =70 years) had faster rate of change at 0.25 to 3, 10, and 11 kHz than younger female subjects (60 to 69 years). Older male subjects had faster rate of change at 6 kHz than younger male subjects. Females had a slower rate of change at 1 kHz and a faster rate of change at 6 to 12 kHz than males. Subjects with higher initial thresholds at low and mid frequencies tended to have faster rate of threshold change at 0.25 to 2 kHz in the following years. Subjects with higher initial thresholds at mid and higher frequencies tended to have slower rate of change at 6 to 8 kHz in the following years. Noise history did not have a significant effect on the rate of threshold changes.