Hearing loss is very common after age 71

Photo credit: Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In the United States, hearing loss is very common after age 71.  This is generally a well-known fact, but not to the level of detail reported by audiologist Nicholas Reed and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in a recent article in JAMA Network Open. The article is based on data collected from June to November of 2021 as part of the National Health Aging and Trends Study. In the 11th round of the study, screening audiometry was performed in each ear using portable equipment at 0.5, 1, 2, 4 and 8 kilohertz.

The study also corrected for considerable omissions in previous research. It uses a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries with “robust oversampling of the oldest old.” Earlier studies did not provide detailed information about people over the age of 80, relied on self-reported hearing loss and excluded those unable to travel to testing sites. 

The results are staggering. An estimated 65.3% of adults aged 71 and older had at least some degree of hearing loss, with the prevalence of hearing loss increasing with age. At age 90 and older, 96.2% of individuals had hearing loss. Among those with hearing loss, only 29.2% were using hearing aids.

Once hearing loss has occurred, it’s too late to prevent it. Hearing loss is not part of normal physiological aging, but is largely caused by noise exposure. Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing. People with hearing loss don’t like to wear hearing aids. Even in countries where national health insurance programs cover hearing aids completely, only a minority of those who might benefit from them.

Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss is simple and inexpensive: avoid loud noise exposure, turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment or use hearing protection, because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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