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Hearing Impediments Affect 1 In 9 Middle Aged People

February 22, 2011

Hearing tests in more than 2,800 adults between the ages of 21 to 84 concluded that one in seven had lost some degree of hearing, and as expected, the rate of hearing loss increased with age. Among people aged 45 to 54, one in nine showed signs of hearing impairment.

Of those older than 80 years – about 90 percent – had some hearing impairment, but the rate had already reached one in nine among adults 45 to 54 years old, the largest age group in the population, Reuters Health is reporting.

Hearing loss “is a significant problem, even in middle age,” says Dr. Peter Rabinowitz of Yale University, who was not involved in the study. Scott Nash of the University of Wisconsin, leading the study, explained how someone was hearing impaired if at least one ear had trouble hearing within the range of human speech.

Nash explains the cutoff is considered “mild impairment,” so much so, that people may not even realize they have trouble hearing. “Not everyone is aware of it, since the changes can occur relatively slowly,” said Rabinowitz. 

Hearing loss, the authors concluded, might be linked to risks for heart disease and stroke. Specifically, hearing loss was seen as correlated with the health of the blood vessels of the retina in the eye, an indication of blood vessel health overall.

Rabinowitz says other studies have also linked ear health to heart disease and stroke risk. These findings “provide additional evidence” that such risk “may be associated with hearing.” The association makes sense, he noted – the inner ear depends on a rich supply of blood, and research shows that when blood circulation is compromised, the ear can suffer.

No association, however, was seen between hearing impairment and other measures of heart disease and stroke risk in middle-aged adults, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. “This may have been due to the younger age of the cohort, or the low prevalence of some of these conditions in this population,” Nash suggested. “As this population ages, however, it will be very informative to see what effect, if any, these diseases have on future hearing.”

Physicians do not typically screen middle-aged adults for hearing loss. The US Preventive Services Task Force, sponsored by the US government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is currently evaluating new evidence as 1996 was when it issued its last recommendations.

Maintaining your cardiovascular health helps protect your ears as you age, Rabinowitz  tells Reuters Health. “Taking care of your overall health may help your hearing.” Currently, 29 million Americans are living with hearing impairment, most commonly men, older adults, and those exposed to loud noises, according to the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery report. To take a closer look at hearing loss in various age groups, Nash and his team surveyed 2,837 adults.

The rate of hearing impairment increased with age, exceeding 40 percent in those 65 and older. These rates are high, but “unfortunately not all that surprising,” Nash told Reuters Health in an e-mail, since previous studies have also found similar numbers.

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