Only one in seven people ages 50 and older who should be using hearing aids wears a device, says a study led by Johns Hopkins researchers. That means nearly 23 million either don't know they have clinically significant hearing loss or, for various reasons, are not getting the help they need.

The study authors, Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and Wade Chien, M.D., set out to determine the extent of untreated hearing loss in the United States and the scope of existing treatment. They analyzed data related to hearing loss from the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program of studies designed to assess Americans' health and nutritional status. Their findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Why do so many people who can benefit from hearing aids not use them? The study authors suggest three main reasons:

  • The misperception by both patients and some doctors that hearing loss is an inconsequential part of aging
  • Insufficient health care coverage for hearing aids and hearing loss treatment
  • A lack of research showing hearing loss's impact on overall health and well-being

The impact of hearing loss on health can be significant. Hearing loss has been linked to poorer cognitive function, the risk of developing dementia and falling. And it can have a negative impact on relationships and communication in everyday life, not to mention work performance.

Signs of hearing loss

You may have poor hearing if:

  • You turn up the TV and radio volume to levels that other people find too loud
  • People tell you you're shouting at them
  • You strain to hear what people say—and ask them to repeat themselves—especially when there's background noise
  • You can't hear such sounds as a dripping faucet or high-pitched notes played on a musical instrument like a violin
  • When people speak to you, it sounds like they're mumbling
  • You find it hard to understand what someone is saying to you over the phone
  • You often hear ringing, roaring or hissing sounds in your ears
  • You hear better in one ear than in the other

If you have three or more of these signs, contact your doctor. If he or she suspects you have hearing loss, you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (an otolaryngologist) or a specialist who can test you and help you choose a device to improve your hearing (an audiologist) if needed.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 19 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015