Bloomberg News

Hearing Loss Affects About 1 in 5 Americans, Researchers Say

November 24, 2011

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- About one in five Americans ages 12 and older suffer from hearing loss that’s severe enough to make communication difficult, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found.

About 30 million Americans, or 13 percent of the population, have hearing loss in both ears, and 48 million, or 20 percent, in at least one ear, according to a study published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That exceeds previous estimates, which put the number of people with hearing loss at 21 million to 29 million, the researchers said.

The study also found that hearing loss doubled every decade of life. Deficient hearing has been linked to a greater risk of dementia, poor cognitive function and falling in the elderly, said lead study author Frank Lin, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The impact of hearing loss on the aging isn’t “inconsequential” and should be treated, he said.

“If you have poor hearing, your brain almost has to work harder to decode and process sound,” said Lin in a Nov. 11 telephone interview. “If you brain is having to reallocate resources to hearing, it probably comes at the expense of cognition or thinking ability.”

Researchers in the study used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys from 2001 to 2008 for all participants ages 12 and older who had their hearing tested over that period. The survey is thought to be representative of the U.S. population.

Worse With Age

For those in their 40s, about 2.8 million suffer from hearing loss in both ears and 5.6 million have the condition in at least one ear. That number jumped to 8.8 million for people in their 70s who had hearing loss in both ears and 10.8 million for those who had hearing loss in at least one ear, the study showed.

Women and black people were less likely then other groups to suffer from hearing loss, the study found. Lin said estrogen may be protective of hearing and the same cells that make skin dark may also play a role in preventing hearing loss.

Today’s study “gives us the real scope of the problem for the first time and shows us how big of a problem hearing loss really is,” Lin said in a statement.

--Editors: Angela Zimm, Andrew Pollack

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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