Nearly 23 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss


BALTIMORE — Though an estimated 26.7 million Americans ages 50 years and older have hearing loss, only about 1-in-7 of them uses a hearing aid, according to a new study led by Johns Hopkins researchers that was released Monday.

Johns Hopkins experts estimate nearly 23 million have untreated hearing loss and suggest that their findings add clarity to less rigorous estimates by device manufacturers and demonstrates how widespread undertreatment of hearing loss is in the United States.

"Understanding current rates of hearing loss treatment is important, as evidence is beginning to surface that hearing loss is associated with poorer cognitive functioning and the risk of dementia," stated study senior investigator Frank Lin, who also is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Previous studies that have attempted to estimate hearing aid use have relied on industry marketing data or focused on specific groups that don't represent a true sample of the United States population."

Lin noted that many with hearing loss likely avoid their use, in part, because health insurance often does not cover the costs and because people do not receive the needed rehabilitative training to learn how to integrate the devices into their daily lives. But another major reason, he said, is that people often consider hearing loss inevitable and of minor concern.

"There's still a perception among the public and many medical professionals that hearing loss is an inconsequential part of the aging process and you can't do anything about it," Lin said. "We want to turn that idea around."

To address the data gap, Lin and Wade Chien, also an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins, used data from the 1999-2006 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a research program that has periodically gathered health information from thousands of Americans since 1971. During those cycles, participants answered questions about whether they used a hearing aid and had their hearing tested.

Their new findings, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine online Feb. 13, showed that only about 1-in-7 individuals ages 50 years or older, or 14%, use hearing aids. Although hearing aid use rose with age, ranging from 4.3% in individuals ages 50 to 59 years to 22.1% in those ages 80 years and older. Overall, another 23 million could possibly benefit from using the devices, Lin said.

Lin and his colleagues currently are leading a study to investigate the effects of hearing aids and cochlear implants on the social, memory and thinking abilities of older adults, he reported.

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