Older Americans with hearing loss have higher incidence of health problems

David Kirkwood
June 12, 2013

People age 70 or over with hearing loss are substantially more likely to have been hospitalized in the past year and to have had more days of self-reported poor health than their contemporaries with normal hearing. So report Dane J. Genther, MD, and colleagues in a Research Letter to appear in this week’s issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

According to a news release issued by JAMA on June 11, Genther and four colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote, “Fully adjusted models accounting for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors demonstrated that HL [hearing loss] was significantly associated with any hospitalization, number of hospitalizations, more than 10 days of self-reported poor physical health, and more than 10 days of self-reported poor mental health.”

The researchers used data from 1669 subjects (1140 with hearing loss, 529 with normal hearing) collected by the 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. NHANES is an ongoing epidemiological study designed to assess the health and functional status of the civilian, non-institutionalized U.S. population.

The subjects, all over age 70, had their hearing tested by air-conduction pure-tone audiometry, according to established NHANES protocols. Based on World Health Organization criteria that define normal hearing as having thresholds of 25 dB or better in both ears, groups of subjects with normal hearing and with hearing loss were established.

The differences between the two groups were striking. The authors found that 23.8% of the subjects with hearing loss had been hospitalized in the previous year compared to 18.7% of those without hearing loss. Those in the hearing-impaired group who had been to the hospital in the past year averaged 1.52 hospitalizations, while the normal-hearing subjects who had been hospitalized averaged 1.27 visits.



In their JAMA Research Letter, the authors wrote, “Hearing loss (HL) is a chronic condition that affects nearly 2 of every 3 adults aged 70 years or older in the United States. Hearing loss has broader implications for older adults, being independently associated with poorer cognitive and physical functioning.” They added, “The association of HL with other health economic outcomes, such as health care use, is unstudied.”

The authors cited the need for additional research “to investigate the basis of these observed associations and whether hearing rehabilitative therapies could help reduce hospitalizations and improve self-reported health in older adults with HL.”

Genther’s co-authors are Kevin D. Frick, PhD; David Chen, BS; Joshua Betz, MS; and Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD.

  1. Glad to see this data in real numbers and in journals with a broader viewing audience like JAMA.

    We’ve known for literally decades that untreated hearing loss is highly associated with multiple quality of life factors, more than many other diseases or coniditions and increases the likelihood someone seeks medical care for more often for other conditions (stress, anxiety, depression and their physical ramifications on overall health) that can be exacerbated by the hearing loss.

    Lets hope these numbers can help re-iterate the need for Medicare and 3rd party payers to begin routinely covering hearing treatment options (i.e. hearing aids, etc) as a means to treat the whole person and improve quality of life and possibly prevent the need for medical intervention for other comorbid disorders.

Leave a Reply