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Study: Millions of People Suffering From Hearing Loss Go Untreated

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Only one in seven older Americans with hearing loss actually use a hearing aid, according to a new study from John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Medicine.

Approximately 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, but the report released Monday found about 23 million are not being treated.

“Understanding current rates of hearing loss treatment is important, as evidence is beginning to surface that hearing loss is associated with poorer cognitive functioning and the risk of dementia,” said senior study investigator Frank Lin.

Lin, along with co-researcher Wade Chien, pulled data from the 1999 to 2006 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,  a research program that has periodically collected health information from American since the 1970s.

Results showed that 14 percent — one in seven — of individuals age 50 or older use hearing aids. Hearing aid use increases with age, ranging from 4.3 percent in individuals 50 to 59 years old to 22.1 percent in those 80 and older.

Still, an additional 23 million could possibly benefit from using hearing aids, Lin said.

Lin said people don’t seek hearing loss treatment because many insurance companies do not cover the entire cost of hearing treatment and those that do seek treatment sometimes don’t know how to properly use hearing devices. He said many also just assume hearing loss is another part of aging and not a major health concern.

“There is still a perception among the public and many medical professionals that hearing loss is an inconsequential part of the aging process and you can’t do anything about it,” Lin said. “We want to turn that idea.”

In addition to an increased risk of cognitive impairment, hearing loss has been associated with increased social isolation, depression and irritability.

Results of the study are published in the current online issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

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