02 October 2003

Hearing loss in elderly often undiagnosed

Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults and has important effects on their physical and mental health.

Despite these effects, most older patients are not assessed or treated for hearing loss even though simple screening methods are available and easily administered by primary-care physicians or family doctors, says a American study.

According to the study, between 25% and 40% of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from hearing impairment. Effective treatment could dramatically improve their hearing. Yet, most seniors don't undergo the simple screening tests. Fewer than 10% of primary-care physicians screen elderly patients for hearing loss, and only 25% of patients who could benefit from hearing aids are fitted with them.

The study, based on a survey of 1595 scientific articles published between 1985 and 2001, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the 16th of April, 2003.

"A lot of people have come to accept hearing loss as a part of aging," says Dr. Bevan Yueh, the study's lead author, to HealthScoutNews. "What shouldn't be accepted is the resulting loss of quality of life. There's effective treatment available for hearing loss."

The study found that hearing loss in the elderly is strongly linked with social isolation, depression, low self-esteem and difficulty functioning.

The authors of the recommend that hearing screening should be as common as screening for blood pressure and vision. Two easy procedures for initial hearing screening are the use of a hand held audioscope and the administration of a simple set of questions, which the patient could complete in the waiting room.

Screening is vitally important because the patients themselves often fail to realize they have a hearing loss because it develops gradually over time. Many do not realize how bad it is even after they become socially isolated, stay home and turn up their TV. Dr. Yueh points to examples of people who give up talking to their grandchildren and no longer enjoy a social life and adds: "Then they got the hearing aids, and now they live fully again."

Sources: The Journal of the American Medical Association, volume 289 No. 15, April 16, 2003 and HealthScoutNewsReporter, April 15, 2003.

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