Nov. 5, 1999 Writer: Aaron Hoover
Sources: Kenneth Pugh, (352) 846-5139, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carl Crandell, (352) 392-2034, email@example.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Despite mounting evidence that hearing loss affects health, a significant number of elderly people don't seek treatment for the problem, even when their hearing loss is substantial, University of Florida researchers say.
The researchers' findings come as the number of elderly, the most frequent victims of hearing loss, is predicted to soar nationwide as the baby-boom generation retires. The impact could be particularly pronounced in traditional retirement destinations such as Florida and Arizona, where already large elderly populations are expected to grow even larger in the coming three decades.
"Many of the respondents in my study who were afflicted with substantial hearing loss had no treatment plans," said Kenneth Pugh, who based his doctoral dissertation in UF's department of communication sciences and disorders on the research. "The problem crosses racial and gender lines, although slightly higher percentages of elderly blacks sampled were less inclined to seek assistance."
The impact of not seeking treatment extends well beyond continued hearing loss. Carl Crandell, faculty advisor for Pugh and a UF associate professor of audiology, said his and others' research indicate a strong link between hearing loss and health problems.
It's not that hearing loss causes or worsens other diseases, but rather that the condition exacerbates the perceived symptoms associated with disease, Crandell said.
"Hearing loss can cause depression and feelings of isolation, but it also tends to heighten people's awareness of the impact of physical disease on their lives," he said. "We've found that when we put hearing aids on people, they report improved health."
According to Crandell and Pugh, the majority of research on hearing loss nationally has ignored race or gender as a factor or relied on data collected from largely white survey groups. By contrast, Pugh's research took pains to account for race and gender, testing the hearing of 81 white volunteers and 71 blacks, aged 60 to 90, and then asking questions about their hearing and health in general.
While Pugh found members of both races and genders with substantial hearing loss reported more health problems, he also found that a majority of this group -- 60 percent -- were not inclined to do anything about the problem.
The phenomenon is likely to have several causes, he said.
"Some elderly individuals may not be aware of the hearing-aid technology available today, some may be concerned about the cost of hearing aids, others may have the perception that they are being preyed upon by a hearing-aid salesman," Pugh said.
The findings point to a need for hearing-care providers to reach out to elderly hearing loss victims, especially in light of the projected increase in the elderly people populations of all races, Pugh said. The number of U.S. residents 65 or older is expected to swell from today's 12.6 percent of the population to 16.4 percent in 2020, according to UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. In Florida, people 65 or older already currently account for 18.4 percent of the population, a figure expected to balloon to 23.6 percent by 2020, according to the UF organization.
Crandell noted that health insurance plans rarely pay for hearing aids, while Medicaid typically pays for only one hearing aid, despite evidence that two aids are far more effective. Pugh's research may help convince insurance companies that hearing loss, and its negative impacts on health, is a problem that needs to be addressed for all populations, he said.
"Treating hearing loss is a very cost-effective approach to addressing health and quality-of-life issues," Crandell said. "This research will help us show insurance companies and the government that the problem exists for all races and genders."
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