Hearing Loss Common in Middle Age, But Could Be Preventable
Madison, Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health researchers found that hearing loss in middle-aged adults is associated with being male, having a noisy job, and having certain cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Scott D. Nash, a researcher with the Department of Population Health Sciences at the School of Medicine and Public Health, found that one of seven middle aged adults - with an average age of 49 years - had impaired hearing.
Nash and colleagues analyzed data from participants in the Beaver Dam Offspring Study, an epidemiological study of aging. The study included 3,285 participants ranging in age from 21 to 84 years.
The researchers evaluated hearing impairment as a pure-tone average greater than 25 decibels hearing level in either ear. They also measured word recognition at different sound levels and with male and female voices. Study participants also provided information about medical history, behaviors and environmental factors.
The prevalence of hearing impairment was 14.1 percent and the average word recognition in quiet was 89.6 percent, but 63.5 percent in competing message or noisy environments.
"Hearing impairment was more likely in men, in participants with lower education levels, and in those working in noisy occupations or with a history of ear surgery," the authors report.
They also found cardiovascular markers associated with hearing problems, including statin use, a lower hemocrit percentage and thicker artery walls. The authors note that participants in the study also had significantly higher odds of a parental history of hearing impairment and that this is a highly heritable condition.
"Hearing impairment is a common condition in middle-aged adults. Cardiovascular disease risk factors may be important correlates of age-related auditory dysfunction," they said.
The authors conclude that if hearing impairment is detected early, "it may be a preventable chronic disease" because the same healthy lifestyles changes that improve cardiovascular health may also prevent or delay hearing loss.
At least 29 million Americans have a hearing impairment.
"Population-based epidemiological prevalence estimates range from 20.6 percent in adults aged 48 to 59 years to 90 percent in adults older than 80 years," the authors report. "The severity of this condition has been shown to be associated with a poorer quality of life, communication difficulties, impaired activities of daily living, dementia, and cognitive dysfunction."
The study was published online Monday in the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The paper will appear in the May print issue of the journal.
This study was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, the National Eye Institute, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Date Published: 02/21/2011