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Sound waves are simply vibrations that are collected by the outer ear, called the pinna. The pinna helps to both funnel sounds into your middle ear and to detect from which direction sounds are coming from. The vibrations then travel down your ear canal and vibrate your ear drum, which in turn vibrates the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The stirrup send the vibrations through the oval window, into the cochlea, where thousand of minuscule hairs translate the vibrations into signals to the brain. The brain receives the signal in the hearing center and decipher the messages, which allows you to hear the sounds and detect what the are, and where they are coming from. Hearing loss is the result of any part of this intricate system breaking down. Because the parts of the ear are so small and fragile, hearing loss is common in elderly individuals, effecting 40% of Americans in their later years.