Older adults aren’t getting their hearing checked enough — especially women

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The majority of people in America aged 50 and up have not been checked for hearing loss anytime in the past two years, according to a recent poll. Nearly 80% report having primary care physicians who have not questioned or checked their hearing capabilities. 

Hearing loss can hinder a person from socially connecting with others including family and friends. Additionally, the sense of hearing often diminishes with age and can increase the risk of falls for elderly people. Studies have also found that hearing loss can double the risk of dementia

Results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, based at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, indicate that those aged 65 to 80 are more likely to be tested for hearing loss in the past two years. Also, results show that men are more likely to be screened than women. Still, nearly 72% of men over the age of 65 report not having been tested.

Of the older adults polled, 16% report hearing ability that was either fair or poor. Among those with hearing loss, 28% report fair or poor physical health, and 31% report fair or poor mental health.

“Hearing loss can occur throughout life, but the risk rises with age as our ears lose function. Age-related hearing loss can have wide-ranging consequences and can be addressed with assistive technologies, yet these data show a major gap in detection and disparities between groups. Many people don’t realize they’ve lost hearing ability unless they’re screened or tested,” says Dr. Michael McKee, a family medicine physician and health services researcher at Michigan Medicine, in a statement.

The Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation developed the poll questions with the help of Dr. McKee and the Department of Family Medicine chair Dr. Philip Zazove. Cochlear implants, which have been found to decrease the risk of Dementia, are used by both Dr. McKee and Dr. Zazove. The team polled 2,074 adults between the ages of 50 and 80.

Although previous studies indicate at least half of the older population in the U.S. suffers from some hearing loss, only 6% use a hearing aid device. There is a wide range of health coverage, however, hearing tests and hearing aid devices are not covered under basic Medicare plans.

“Having to bear the cost of testing and devices can be a barrier to timely care, on top of the social stigma attached to age-related hearing loss and wearing a device. These findings spotlight a tremendous opportunity for primary care and audiology clinicians to partner better, and for health policy decision-makers to engage on this issue,” says Dr. Zazove.

“A person’s ability to hear greatly affects how they interact with other people, loved ones, and the environment around them,” adds Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “It’s discouraging to learn that the majority of adults over 50 are not getting their hearing tested regularly, and may not know that their hearing is declining.”

Findings can be found in the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

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