by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man asked,
Does the thickness of the eardrum change with age? If it does, then a person’s hearing could be affected by vibrational changes resulting from membrane thickness variations. Do you have any information on this?
I have not found a lot of hard data on this, but the short answer to your question is “Yes, your eardrums thicken as you age.”
For example, Roger Caras wrote, “As small children we probably functioned up in the forty thousand Hz range, but time does take its toll. The eardrum thickens as we age and the small bones inside of the ear that transmit the vibrations become less responsive. It has been suggested that by the time we reach our forties, we probably lose as much as 80 cps worth of sensitivity every six months.” (1)
“Aging effects all parts of the ear. The eardrum thickens. The tiny bones in the middle ear stiffen. As a result hearing may decline.” (2)
“The eardrum becomes thicker and stiffer with age. This means that louder and louder sounds are needed to move the eardrum and achieve the threshold of hearing.” (3)
“As we age the actual membrane of the eardrum may thicken and make it more difficult for sounds to pass through.” (4)
As you can see, there is no doubt that as we age, our eardrums become less and less efficient in passing through sounds like they once did. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any research that explains exactly how much this affects our hearing in terms of loudness or frequency response.
(1) Caras, Roger A. 1993. A Dog Is Listening: The Way Some of Our Closest Friends View Us. Simon and Schuster. p. 31.
(4) McCutcheon, Reg. Hearing Loss and the Aging Process.