Hearing Loss: Many Elderly Not Treated

Doctors Should Give More Attention to Widespread Problem, Researcher Says

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 20, 2003 -- Many elderly people have hearing problems, and it only gets worse as they get older. Yet they don't get tested or treated for it.

It's a big public health problem than needs more attention, say authors of a new study in this month's Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.

Hearing loss affects some 2 million older adults over age 70, by one estimate. That statistic makes it one of the most common chronic health conditions affecting older adults today.

In one study, more than 90% of adults were found to have some degree of hearing loss, and despite this more than 36% of them reportedly never even have their hearing tested -- and that figure is likely far lower than in reality, says lead researcher Karen J. Cruickshanks, PhD, an epidemiologist with the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He notes that in this same study only 14% of older adults with hearing loss used hearing aids.

To get a picture of this problem, Cruickshanks and colleagues enrolled 1,636 men and women without hearing loss and 1,085 who did have hearing loss -- all who were residents of Beaver Dam, Wis. The volunteers were between 43 and 84 years old. Each had their hearing tested, then retested five years later.

The results:

  • 21% of the volunteers lost some hearing in the five-year period.
  • Those who had worked in industrial jobs were almost twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who had management or professional positions.
  • Men were almost three times more likely than women to develop hearing loss.
  • More than half of those with hearing loss at the study's beginning -- 53% -- had worsening loss in the five-year period.
  • Male volunteers with hearing loss had even worse hearing over the five-year period: 44% in the 60 to 69 age group; 59% among 70 to 79 year olds; and 76% in the over-80 group.
  • Women had a similar pattern: 55% of the 60 to 69 group; 65% of those in their 70s; and 75% in the over-80 group.

Hearing loss is a serious public health problem that affects important communication, writes Cruickshanks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that doctors include routine screening for hearing loss in patients age 65 and older, she adds.

SOURCE: Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Oct. 2003; vol 129: pp 1041-1046.