Lucky Portlanders who enjoyed three days of peace, love and music in upstate New York during the summer of 1969 are paying the price today. Many are suffering the effects of noise-induced hearing loss—an irreversible condition that can seriously impact their daily lives.
Summer of Love, Winter of Hearing Impairment
Hearing loss becomes more common as we age. One of the biggest factors contributing to a decline in hearing is noise. Of particular concern are the concerts and music festivals many older Americans attended during their youth.
Exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells of the cochlea. 85 decibels (dB) is considered the threshold for safe listening; at this volume, it would take eight hours for hearing damage to occur. Noise levels at concerts can easily exceed 100 dB or more; at those volumes, permanent damage can occur in a matter of minutes. Considering the Woodstock music festival lasted for three days, it’s likely many concertgoers are dealing with a hearing impairment 50 years later.
Polls show early listening habits can lead to later hearing loss
A Harris Poll confirms this. Out of 1,000 adults between the ages of 65 to 80 (often labeled as the “Woodstock generation” even if they never attended the seminal event) who were surveyed, nearly half who listened to loud or very loud music in their teens are struggling with hearing loss today. Other statistics from the survey show that:
- 52 percent have difficulty understanding what is being said in loud environments such as busy restaurants
- 41 percent say hearing loss has negatively affected their ability to participate in social activities or gatherings
- 40 percent have needed people to repeat what they have said in conversations
- 40 percent have missed words in conversations
- 38 percent say hearing loss impacts relationships with family and friends
- 70 percent say they wish they were able to hear music the way they did when they were younger
Hearing loss is more than just the Woodstock effect
We can’t solely blame Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane for permanently harming many older people’s hearing. The number of people who actually attended Woodstock is around 400,000, and rates of hearing loss far exceed that number. There are other factors that have led to hearing loss for the Woodstock Generation; these include noisy jobs, war-related injuries and even just the cumulative effects of a lifetime of noise exposure. All those barking dogs, traffic horns and lawn mowers add up over the years.
In many cases, hearing naturally declines with age. It’s estimated that one-third of people aged 65 experience hearing loss in Portland; by the age of 75, that number is closer to 50 percent. For those people, turning back the clock isn’t an option; hearing loss is permanent, though hearing aids can help with quality of life. Because concerts and music festivals continue to be a big draw, if you’re attending these events, please take precautions to protect your hearing. A good pair of earplugs today can help you enjoy music well into your golden years.