Feature Archive

Baby Boomers Listen Up

After years of loud rock, boomers are battling hearing loss.

By John Cutter
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Eric Snider, music editor for The Weekly Planet in Tampa, Fla., says people often joke when they see him wearing foam earplugs at rock concerts. How good can the concert be if the critic is muffling the sounds?

But Snider, 50, is simply taking precautions against the often relentless noise level. "Someday," he says, "I hope to be able to hear what my grandchildren are saying." Snider has worn earplugs for a long time, but lately he has noticed more people, especially his colleagues, doing the same.

When Hearing Goes

Many others exposed to high-decibel surroundings, however, are not as cautious as Snider -- and may regret it. Years of exposure to loud concerts, cranked-up stereos, personal CD players, leaf blowers, and other environmental noise are a big part of the reason doctors are now seeing more middle-aged people with hearing loss. It used to be that people aged 65 and older were the most likely to need hearing aids, but now hearing loss is a boomer phenomenon -- as former President Bill Clinton demonstrated when he was fitted with hearing aids a few years ago.

Statistics support doctors' observations that people are suffering from hearing loss at younger ages. About 28 million Americans have hearing loss and, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), it occurs among adults of all ages. Fourteen percent of adults between 45 and 64 have hearing loss. Moreover, the percentage has grown as baby boomers have aged. Between 1971 and 1990, the number of people between the ages of 46 and 64 with hearing loss increased 26%, and the number between the ages of 18 and 44 increased 17%, according to the National Health Interview Survey.