Hearing Loss Under-Researched in Older Adults

By Will Boggs MD

January 23, 2019

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hearing loss research in older adults lags far behind that in children, researchers report.

"Hearing loss is important and may have real ramifications for the overall health of older adults, but we need more research to guide clinical care and public health interventions," Dr. Jennifer A. Deal from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland told Reuters Health by email.

Hearing loss is three times more common in older adults than in children and has been associated with worse health outcomes and diminished quality of life. But when Dr. Deal's team undertook a literature search, they found that from 1946 to 2017, approximately 137 articles were published on children and 26 articles on older adults per year.

Overall, five times as many publications addressed hearing loss in children (n=9743) as addressed hearing loss in older adults (n=1880), according to the January 17th JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery online report.

Topics included in these publications included cochlear implants, hearing aids, and language, with the smallest number of publications related to policy.

The greatest discrepancies in publications by age were for articles related to cochlear implants (22 times more likely in children than older adults) and language (15 times more likely in children than older adults).

"Such a large disparity may exist because hearing loss has often been regarded as part of the 'normal' aging process," Dillan Villavisanis from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, first author of this report, told Reuters Health by email. "We now know that hearing loss has associations with worse health outcomes, including increased hospitalizations and cognitive decline."

"The lack of research on older adults has implications for screening policy, as the US Preventive Services Task Force concluded there is insufficient evidence to make recommendations on screening for hearing loss in asymptomatic older adults," he said. "Additional research could yield more conclusive policy statements and have implications for the future standard of care."

Dr. Deal said, "It's pretty clear that we need more research in this area, especially given how high the burden of hearing loss is - two out of three adults over age 70 have a clinically significant hearing loss. But I would just want to reiterate what we stated in the article - we don't think that hearing loss research in older adults should come at the expense of that in children; the goal of our work was to highlight where we need to focus our attention for research in older adults."

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2sCp1WV

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2019.