Medical panel’s refusal to back hearing screening draws disbelief from an AARP blogger

WASHINGTON, DC—The decision by the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force not to recommend that primary-care physicians routinely screen asymptomatic adults over age 50 for hearing loss (see last week’s post on Hearing News Watch) has provoked disapproval and incredulity from an AARP blogger. In her latest Personal Health and Well-being column, on AARP Blog, entitled “I Can’t Believe What I’m Hearing: New Guidelines for Older Ears,” Candy Sagon writes:

“Screening older adults for hearing loss is a cheap, effective, harmless way to determine if their hearing ability has worsened and might be helped with a hearing aid. And yet the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force won’t recommend routine hearing exams for those 50 and older. They won’t even commit to recommending that doctors ask about any hearing problems in older adults.

“Does this make sense?”

Clearly not to Ms. Sagon, nor to many in the hearing healthcare field. For decades, hearing professionals and advocates for hard-of-hearing people have promoted routine physician screening for hearing loss. Not only is it one of the most common and most serious conditions facing people, especially as they age, but hearing loss is also notoriously underdiagnosed and undertreated. Family physicians have been seen as ideally positioned to detect hearing loss in their patients and, if indicated, to refer them for help to an expert in the field.

As reported on this blog last week, the task force doesn’t actually oppose hearing screening. In fact, in its previous statement on the issue, in 1996, it recommended screening by physicians.

However, as it explained in announcing its new position, the panel of physicians found no compelling evidence in the literature that routine screening among older adults had any benefit. So, while the task force saw negligible risk or harm in routine screening, it felt that to continue recommending it would be an abandonment of its policy that recommendations must be evidence-based.



The AARP blogger closes on a hopeful note, saying, “Maybe there will be a silver lining to the panel’s reluctance to recommend a routine hearing exam. Perhaps it will goad more researchers to study the negative effects of hearing loss on the huge number of aging adults in this country, as well as the benefits of hearing tests and hearing aids.”

1 Comment

  1. Unfortunately, the recommendation by the task force probably did far more harm than good.

    There needs to be a good look at why the task force failed to consider other relevant, important research findings.

    The decision not to recommend doing anything about hearing loss unless a patient brings up a concern about hearing loss does not take into consideration that many hard of hearing people are completely unaware they have a hearing loss but can have significant problems connected to the undiagnosed hearing loss. In the 1990’s, I read an abstract of a study of an outpatient mental health clinic which revealed that about half of the patients had hearing loss, some of which was severe. Most of the patients had not known they had hearing loss but had presumably sought out mental health treatment due to the associated difficulties they were having.

    Perhaps the task force should be asked to reconsider its recommendations. It could and should have concluded that due to the lack of harm associated with hearing screenings coupled with the benefit of treating hearing loss, it is still advisable to conduct screenings even though more research is needed.

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