Researchers find that underuse of hearing aids is even worse than we realized

David Kirkwood
February 15, 2012

BALTIMORE—Only one out of seven Americans age 50 and over with hearing loss wears hearing aids. So reports a paper published online February 13 in Archives of Internal Medicine  by Wade Chien, MD, and Frank Lin, MD, PhD, both from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

That one-in-seven (14%) figure indicates that hearing aids are even more underutilized than has been reported previously. For example, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) MarkeTrak surveys have consistently found that between 20% and 25% of Americans (of any age) with hearing loss use hearing aids

The new figure reflects data published a few months ago by Hopkins researchers regarding the number of Americans with hearing loss. That report, published in the November 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine and discussed on this blog, estimated that 48 million Americans age 12 and over have impaired hearing in at least one ear. That’s 20.3% of the total 12-and-over population.

This article drew upon data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES), a program that has collected health information from thousands of Americans for more than 40 years.

This reported incidence of hearing loss is much higher than most recent estimates of the number of people with hearing loss. For example, BHI most recently estimated it around 32 million, or 10% of the total U.S. population.

However, unlike most previous researchers, Lin, the study’s senior investigator, and his colleagues included 18 million people with hearing loss in only one ear, a population that is much less likely to use amplification than those with binaural hearing loss.  Thus, given the more inclusive criteria that the Hopkins researchers used to define hearing impairment, it was logical that they would find a higher number of people with the condition and a smaller percentage of them using hearing aids.



In an interview with the Johns Hopkins Medicine office of media relations and public affairs, Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist, commented, “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.”

The assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health added, “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.”

According to the Hopkins scientists, the rate of hearing aid use rose with age, ranging from 4.3% in the 50-to-59 age group to 22.1% of those 80 and older. Overall, says Lin, another 23 million people over 50 could possibly benefit from using the devices.

Among the factors leading to underuse of hearing aids, Lin believes, are that health insurance often fails to cover them and that people who do get hearing aids are not properly taught how to derive maximum benefit from them.

Also, Lin added, “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. We want to turn that idea around.”



  1. Our figures on admitted hearing loss (2008) are 34.5 million and when you count the 13 million people with tinnitus who believe they don’t hearing loss we come up with 47.5 million or close to the Hopkins data. Here is the problem. There is an assumption that all people with any measurable hearing loss are candidates for amplification. This simply is not true. In our MarkeTrak data we have shown that adoption rates are highly dependent on degree of hearing loss. My own estimate is 40% adoption rates for moderate-severe and 9% for mild. I think the Hopkins data does a great disservice from a PR perspective by reporting such low (misleading) adoption rates….who wants to be an outlier and adopt hearing aids with these low figures? Another thing we should recognize is that an individual must comprehend that their hearing loss has a serious impact on their life before they will pursue amplification. Problem recognition is an important precursor to problem resolution….and my hunch is the majority of the Hopkins database do not experience problems with their hearing loss especially if it is mild.

Leave a Reply