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Hearing Loss in Older Adults is Currently Undertreated

By Consumer Reports, 2/21/2012

Although 26.7 million U.S. adults 50 and older have significant hearing loss, less than 15 percent use hearing aids. Two articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week report on how age-related hearing loss is currently poorly addressed.

In "Hearing Loss in Older Adults, Who's Listening?" Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., says that our current way of treating hearing loss is flawed, and simply getting a hearing aid is not enough to 'treat' hearing loss. Counseling, rehabilitative training, environmental accommodations and patience are needed.

In the second JAMA article, "Hearing Deficits in the Older Patient: 'I Didn't Notice Anything,'" James Pacala, M.D., and Bevan Yueh, M.D., say that not only is hearing loss in older adults undertreated, but that patients, clinicians and health care staff often do not recognize hearing loss, particularly in its early stages: "For many older adults, accepting the need for amplification, selecting and purchasing a hearing aid, and getting accustomed to its use is a daunting and often frustrating process. There are numerous barriers to hearing aid use, the most common of which is dissatisfaction with its performance across a range of sonic environments."

When we previously tested hearing aids, we encountered the same challenges that hearing-aid shoppers face, including a fragmented and confusing marketplace and difficulty sorting out good hearing-aid providers from less-capable ones.

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