Hearing Loss Is High, but Hearing Aid Use Is Low

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Study Shows 63% of Americans 70 and Older Have Hearing Loss; Only 20% Use Hearing Aids

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

March 1, 2011 -- Almost two out of three U.S. adults age 70 or older have significant hearing loss, according to a new study.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that 63% of 717 participants age 70 and over in their study had hearing loss, ranging from mild to severe.

But while 64% of white people in the study had hearing loss, the rate for African-Americans was only about 43%.

After taking age, noise exposure, and other factors associated with hearing loss into account, the researchers say African-American participants had only about a third of the chance of having hearing loss compared with whites of comparable age.

Hearing Loss Risk

Study researcher Frank Lin, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of otology, says in a news release that he and his colleagues are not sure why older white people may be at greater risk of hearing loss than older African-Americans.

It could be, he says, that pigment produced by cells in the skin and inner ear might protect the inner ear by absorbing free radicals and other mechanisms.

But whatever the reasons, being African-American appears to offer some protection against hearing loss, he says.

The researched analyzed data from the 2005-2006 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which periodically gathers health data from Americans.

Hearing Aid Use

The study also shows that despite the overwhelming number of older adults with hearing loss, only about 20% use hearing aids.

"Any way you cut it, the rates of hearing aid use are phenomenally low," Lin says.

According to the study, rates of hearing aid use vary considerably by severity of hearing deficiency, with only 3% of people with mild hearing loss saying they use hearing aids, compared to 41% of those with moderate or severe hearing loss.

The study is published online in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

SOURCES: News release, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.Lin, F. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 2011.

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