Aging and Auditory Acuity: New Research Sheds Light on Hearing Loss in the 10th Decade of Life

hearing loss over 90 years of age
March 27, 2024

A newly published study has helped shed light on the prevalence and severity of hearing loss among individuals aged 90 and 95, providing valuable insights into the challenges faced by this age group.

Conducted as a cross-sectional study, researchers aimed to understand the extent of hearing impairment in the 10th decade of life. The study, conducted in home settings including care facilities and nursing homes, sought to maximize participation and representation.

Evaluating Hearing Health in the 10th Decade of Life

The study sample comprised two unselected groups from the population-based Gothenburg H70 Birth Cohort Studies, with 42 individuals aged 90 and 49 individuals aged 95.

Results revealed that nearly all participants (98%) exhibited some degree of hearing loss in their better ear, with 83% experiencing potentially disabling hearing loss of moderate degree or worse according to WHO criteria. Notably, differences between the two age groups indicated an increase in hearing loss, particularly at frequencies ≥ 2 kHz.

The implications of these findings are significant. With bilateral hearing loss affecting almost all individuals in the nonagenarian age group and 8 in 10 experiencing hearing loss severe enough to warrant intervention or hearing aid prescription, the study underscores the importance of addressing hearing health in this population. Furthermore, conducting standardized hearing measurements in a home setting was deemed feasible and enhanced the representativeness of the study population.

The study’s broader context emphasizes the growing demographic of older adults, particularly octogenarians and nonagenarians, in developed countries. With projections indicating a substantial increase in this demographic, understanding and addressing age-related health challenges become paramount. Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is one such challenge, known to progress with age and adversely impact communication, psychosocial well-being, and quality of life.

Hearing Health Across the Lifespan

Previous research on hearing loss among nonagenarians has been limited, often relying on subjective assessments or screening tests. This study, however, utilized standardized pure-tone audiometry to provide robust data on hearing acuity in this age group.

By conducting assessments in home settings, the study overcame logistical challenges associated with the age group’s cognitive, functional, and sensory impairments.

The study’s results also contribute to understanding the progression of hearing loss in advanced age. While ARHL is known to progress with age, studies on nonagenarians have shown varied results regarding the rate and severity of decline. This study’s findings align with previous research indicating a progressive decline, particularly in lower frequencies.

Notably, the study also examined gender differences in hearing loss among nonagenarians, finding a lesser extent of asymmetry between sexes compared to earlier age groups. This suggests a leveling out of hearing loss patterns between genders in advanced age.

Overall, the study underscores the urgency of addressing hearing health among nonagenarians, given the high prevalence and potentially disabling nature of hearing loss in this population. Healthcare workers are urged to prioritize hearing health assessments and adapt their practices to accommodate the diverse needs of older adults. Moving forward, further research is needed to develop effective interventions and enhance diagnostic and rehabilitative measures for this growing demographic.




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