A recently published study looked at the accuracy of assessing hearing loss through self-reporting among adults aged 50 and over. The researchers concluded self-assessment alone was inadequate for detecting hearing loss in this population. They came to that conclusion because nearly a third of study participants with hearing loss had said they had normal hearing. For context, it’s important to note the researchers discovered 684 people with undiagnosed hearing loss.

Learning that hundreds of people hadn’t noticed their hearing loss might shock you. Since I’m an audiologist, the study’s findings aren’t surprising. We regularly see anecdotal evidence that supports their results in our hearing clinic. Here’s why this research doesn’t shock hearing care professionals.

Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Gradual

It’s not unusual for older adults to have significant hearing loss by the time they notice the problem. The primary reason is age-related hearing loss usually happens slowly over the course of years. While age-related hearing loss has several potential causes, gradual change in the inner ear is the most common cause.

The Signs of Hearing Loss Are Unfamiliar

I suspect the study participants who hadn’t noticed their hearing loss didn’t know the signs of hearing loss. In our hearing clinic, we find most people are unaware of the signs.

The progression of age-related hearing loss typically follows a predictable course that starts with classic signs. Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds is an early indicator of hearing loss. Someone who has trouble hearing high-pitched sounds may:

  • Not hear birds singing, microwave beeps, or doorbells.
  • Understand men’s speech, but women’s and children’s words seem muffled.
  • Have difficulty with understanding high-pitched consonants such as s or f

Other signs of hearing loss include:

  • Having trouble following a conversation in noisy places like restaurants
  • Others complain your television volume is too loud.
  • Regularly asking others to repeat what they’ve said.
  • Telephone conversations are hard to understand

Screening Older Adults for Hearing Loss Isn’t Common Place

The study’s lead researcher Dalia Tsimpida, Ph.D., said, “The early identification of hearing difficulties in primary care may be the key to tackling this major public health issue.” I agree. The unfortunate reality is most primary care physicians don’t make hearing screenings a routine part of their annual examinations with patients aged 50 and over. However, primary care physicians aren’t entirely responsible. In the past, the U.S. Preventative Task Force has not recommended that primary care providers screen older adults for hearing loss.

That widespread failure to screen represents a significant gap in the American healthcare system that needs to be addressed by leadership at the national level. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like appropriate guidance is coming soon. The U.S. Preventative Task Force doesn’t advocate hearing screenings for older adults in its draft of upcoming recommendations.

Our clinic is committed to doing our part to raise awareness of hearing issues. My colleagues and I want to equip our neighbors throughout the East Texas community to identify the signs of hearing problems. Early detection and treatment of hearing problems is the best way to avoid the host of adverse outcomes linked to untreated hearing loss. If you or a loved one are experiencing the signs of hearing loss, contact us to schedule a hearing assessment.

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