Why we hear better than our parents did

While the analysts want to look immediately into causes like smoking, I want to see a study on China. How is the hearing of modern factory workers holding up, compared to that of their parents out in the countryside?

An epidemiological study of hearing, published last month, has brought forward a sudden attack of snark from the medical press.

It's all that rock music, you see. Whether you were into the Dead, Springsteen or Blondie, the concerts you went to were loud and often ran long. You probably heard from your parents you would go deaf listening to that stuff.

The concerns were valid, but it was your parents who were going deaf.

The researchers studied hearing records going back 15 years for three studies in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, which were measured against the age of the participants. The patients studied were born anywhere from 1902 to 1962.

During the 20th century the area's economy was transformed, from one of working factories to one of factory buildings turned into offices, shops and apartments. (The old Weyenberg Shoe Factory warehouse in Beaver Dam, right, is now the Shoe Factory Apartments.)

Ever work in a factory? Whether it's making cars, or furniture, or even shoes, it's loud. It's constant. It's on all frequencies at once. You get used to it, but your ears don't.

By contrast rock concerts last just a few hours. Those who play in them, like Pete Townshend of The Who, may go deaf from working inside that sound, but the fans go home, to offices, college campuses and other quiet places.

You can replicate Townshend's experience by keeping your iPod's headphones turned up to 11 all day and all night. But most of us don't do that. Tastes in music evolve as we grow older. I still love Springsteen, but boomers today are as likely to listen to the Indigo Girls or Norah Jones, who are much quieter.

While the analysts want to look immediately into causes like smoking, I want to see a study on China. How is the hearing of modern factory workers holding up, compared to that of their parents out in the countryside?

That should prove the case.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com