March 8, 2011

USA: Aging - Hearing Loss Is Common but Often Ignored

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NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Health / March 8, 2011

Vital Signs

Aging: Hearing Loss Is Common but Often Ignored

By Roni Caryn Rabin

Nearly two-thirds of Americans 70 and older suffer from hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe, according to what may be the first study to gauge the prevalence of hearing impairment in a nationally representative sample of older adults. Photo: NewsUSA.com

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Researchers analyzed data from about 715 elderly people whose hearing was examined as part of the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey in 2005-6, the first time it included hearing assessments of older Americans.

Sixty-three percent of those 70 and older were found to be suffering from impairment that affects their ability to hear human speech, according to the World Health Organization’s definition.

Hearing loss was more common in men than in women. And it was significantly less common in black adults: just 43 percent, compared with 64 percent of whites.

Yet only a minority of older people with these impairments use hearing aids, said Dr. Frank R. Lin, an assistant professor of otology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was lead author of the paper, published Monday in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

“There’s a general perception that hearing loss in older adults is not very important,” he said.

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