June 1, 2009

Elderly hearing, vocal problems linked

A study of 248 participants with a median age of 82.4 found 11 percent were hard of hearing and had vocal problems, U.S. researchers found.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said hearing and vocal problems go hand-in-hand among the elderly more frequently than previously thought.

It's important to realize these disabilities often occur concurrently, Dr. Seth Cohen, an otolaryngologist at the Duke Voice Care Center, said in a statement. And when they do, they can increase the likelihood of depression and social isolation.

Nearly half of people age 65 and older have some degree of hearing loss, a published report said, and about one-third of elderly adults have vocal problems including dysphonia -- known as hoarseness. Taken apart, the disabilities have been linked in the elderly to increased depression, anxiety and social isolation.

When people have trouble hearing, they strain their voices to hear themselves, Cohen said. Likewise, people may strain their voices if their communication partners can't hear.

Because there is effective treatment for both hearing loss and dysphonia, it's important that people with one disability be evaluated for the other, Cohen said.

The study was presented at the American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society in Phoenix.