American Academy of Audiology
Originally published in Audiology Today, Vol. 11:4, 1999.
Untreated hearing loss has serious emotional and social consequences for older persons, according to a major new study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA). The study was conducted by the Seniors Research Group, an alliance between NCOA and Market Strategies, Inc.
"This study debunks the myth that untreated hearing loss in older persons is a harmless condition," said James Firman, EdD, president and CEO of The National Council on the Aging. The survey of 2,300 hearing impaired adults age 50 and older found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States, affecting more than nine million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans age 45 to 64. But about three out of five older Americans with hearing loss and six out of seven middle-aged Americans with hearing loss do not use hearing aids.
Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
The survey found that significantly more of the seniors with untreated hearing loss (those who do not wear hearing aids) reported feelings of sadness or depression that lasted two or more weeks during the previous years. Among respondents with more severe hearing loss, 30 percent of non-users of hearing aids reported these sad feelings, com-pared to 22 percent of hearing aid users.
Another measure of emotional distress is the perception that "other people get angry at me for no reason," which psychologists often identify as an indicator of paranoia.
Older non-users were more likely to agree with the statement "people get angry with me usually for no reason" (14 percent of users vs. 23 percent of non-users). Among those with more severe hearing loss, the difference was even greater—14 percent for users vs. 36 percent for non-users.
Because social isolation is a serious problem for some older people, the study also examined social behavior and found that people who don't use hearing aids are considerably less likely to participate in social activities. Among respondents with more severe hearing loss, 42 percent of hearing aid users participate regularly in social activities com- pared to just 32 percent of non-users. -