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.
“A SILVER LINING?”
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.”