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Hearing loss can happen with advancing age, but fewer American women appear to be affected now than in the past.
Researchers who studied hearing loss between 2008 and 2017 found in the earliest of those years, 16.3% of older U.S. adults reported serious hearing loss. But by 2017 that had dropped to 14.8%, or 739,000 fewer people.
"Interestingly, we found that the improvements observed are mostly among females," said co-author ZhiDi Deng, a pharmacy student at the University of Toronto.
"In fact, the downward trend in hearing loss appears to be entirely driven by declines within the female population after taking into account age and race," Deng said in a university news release.
The study used data from the American Community Survey, which each year sampled a half-million Americans 65 and older, including those who lived in different living situations, such as long-term care homes and in the community. The study included 5.4 million participants whose hearing was assessed based on their responses to the question "Is this person deaf or does he/she have serious difficulty hearing?"
"The reduction in hearing loss in older Americans has important implications for our society," said co-author Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of University of Toronto's Institute of Life Course and Aging. "Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic problems affecting older adults. It can negatively impact their health and quality of life."
Fuller-Thomson said the finding is encouraging as baby boomers become seniors.
"The decline in prevalence of hearing loss can partly offset the burden on families, caregivers and the health care system," she explained in the release.
While hearing loss actually rose about 2% for men, the odds of having serious hearing loss dropped 10% for women.
The same pattern was true even when researchers grouped participants by age: 65 to 74; 75 to 84, and 85 and older. The only exception was men over 75.
The reasons for these gender differences aren't known, but the authors suggested they could include differences in anatomy, smoking habits and noise exposures.
"More research is needed to understand the extraordinary differences in the 10-year prevalence of hearing loss between older American males and females," Fuller-Thomson said. "Identifying the causes and driver behind the sex differences in hearing loss can help us design preventative strategies to better support our aging population."
The findings were recently published in the journal Aging and Health Research.
SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, Dec. 27, 2021
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