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Say What? Hearing Loss Hits Those in Their 50s


Millions of Americans age 50 and older have significant hearing loss, but only one in seven wears a hearing aid, says a new in-depth survey by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

And if you think hearing loss is just a problem among the most senior adults, think again: The 50-somethings in this country are in denial over their worsening hearing.

There are 4.5 million adults ages 50 to 59 experiencing hearing problems, but only a measly 4.3 percent are using hearing aids.

The Hopkins researchers their study shows how under-treated hearing loss is in this country.

Among those in their 50s, many don’t even realize their hearing has been gradually worsening, or they think it’s a minor problem and they can get by.

“These people are still working and going to meetings,”  Frank Lin, M.D., assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology and epidemiology, told ABC News.  “They are the people who need it the most.”

In the study, published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Lin and co-author Wade Chien, M.D., found that of the 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older suffering from “clinically significant, audiometrically defined,” or real, hearing loss, just one in seven used hearing aids. The results are based on federal health data collected from thousands of Americans from 1999 to 2006.

Among the biggest obstacles to people using hearing aids — other than vanity and denial — is that few insurance plans in the U.S. cover them, Lin said. However, even in parts of the world where the devices are covered, the rate of usage is not much better than in this country, he added.

Also, those in their 50s who did get hearing aids often stopped wearing them because of insufficient counseling and training.

Hearing aids, said Lin, are “complex devices. It’s not like putting on eyeglasses.”

Lin and other hearing experts say ignoring hearing loss can have serious negative consequences. It can affect thinking and memory, and can lead to social isolation, depression and even dementia.


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