September 13, 2016
By Anne Harding
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The rate of hearing loss speeds up significantly in the tenth decade of life, but hearing aids remain "vastly underused," new study findings show.
"We need greater awareness and greater acceptance of hearing loss and the need to treat it," Dr. Anil Lalwani of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, one of the study's authors, told Reuters Health by phone. "It's as important to treat hearing loss as it is to treat vision loss. Too many people aren't able to enjoy their last years of life because they are isolated . . . and working very hard to hear."
Little is known about the nature or course of hearing loss beyond age 80, Dr. Lalwani and his team note in their report, published online September 15 in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. To investigate, they reviewed audiometric evaluations in 647 patients ages 80 to 106, including 141 who had more than one audiogram.
At all frequencies, hearing loss was worst for people age 95 and older compared to those in the 80-84, 85-89, and 90-94 age brackets. Among the patients who had two audiograms, the annual rate of hearing loss was significantly faster at age 90 and above. Records on hearing aid use or disuse were available for 364 patients, 59% of whom reported using a hearing aid.
In another paper published earlier this year in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Dr. Lalwani and his colleagues reported that among people age 80 and above, those using hearing aids had worse hearing than those who did not use them, but their cognitive function was better (http://bit.ly/2cLQmxc). This underscores the importance to public health of promoting access to hearing aids to older people, he added.
He and his colleagues suggest that age-related hearing loss should be treated similarly to other age-related chronic conditions, with regular audiological evaluations becoming a standard part of geriatric care. "Improving outcomes for elderly patients with hearing loss depends on increasing the collaboration between otolaryngologists and the primary health professionals in counseling patients about understanding rehabilitative strategies and accepting hearing aids," they write.
Late last year, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended changes to promote wider access to hearing aids, Dr. Lalwani noted, which included promoting the development of less expensive hearing aids and making it easier to get fitted for a hearing aid.
"There's a great need to do longitudinal studies as well, looking to see if early use of hearing aids leads to reduction in cognitive decline, quality of life issues, and so on," Dr. Lalwani said.
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2016.
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