Home Uncategorized A Third of Over-Fifties With Hearing Loss Could Be Undiagnosed

A Third of Over-Fifties With Hearing Loss Could Be Undiagnosed

Up to a third of older adults with hearing loss in England could be undetected and untreated, according to a new study by University of Manchester researchers. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, might mean millions of people are not seeing ear specialists or given hearing aids when their hearing has considerably deteriorated.

Women and older people with fewer qualifications and living in more deprived areas were at higher risk of not recognizing their hearing had deteriorated and thus were less likely to seek help, the researchers found. The findings reveal many hearing loss cases remain undiagnosed in primary care, since people very often cannot recognize their hearing has been affected, which highlights gaps in the continuity of hearing care pathways.

Ph.D. researcher Dalia Tsimpida, who led the study, said untreated hearing difficulty can have a negative impact on mental and physical health, and despite that, hearing loss among older people is underdiagnosed and undertreated. The team examined patterns of health pathways among older adults in England using hearing data of 8,529 participants aged 50-89 years old from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

‘This lack of self-awareness of hearing loss is a problem for many people. These findings may inform public health policies relevant to the selection of appropriate and validated tools for detecting hearing problems among middle-aged and older adults.’ (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
 

The researchers said that as the survey is representative of the English older population, the findings provide a good representation for England as a whole. Although participants had objectively been identified as having hearing loss, they did not self-identify their own difficulties correctly and reported themselves as having normal hearing. Action on Hearing Loss estimates that hearing loss affects over 12 million people in the UK and costs the UK economy around £25 billion a year in productivity and unemployment.

There is no accurate figure for England because of the absence of a screening program. By 2035, it is estimated that there will be more than 15 million people with hearing loss in the UK — a fifth of the population. Diagnosis of hearing loss starts in primary care, where traditionally, people with hearing difficulties present to their GP to seek advice and investigation. Ms. Tsimpida, who is based at the University’s Institute for Health Policy and Organisation (IHPO), said:

“ It is crucial that those with hearing loss are detected in a timely way, referred to ear specialists and given access to hearing aids. The early identification of hearing difficulties in primary care may be the key to tackling this major public health issue. However, more research is needed to understand why so many people are undiagnosed, though we feel making hearing loss part of a routine primary care examination among older adults would be beneficial.”

The study was carried out during Ms. Tsimpida’s NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre Ph.D. studentship, co-authored by her supervisors Dr. Maria Panagioti, Professor Evangelos Kontopantelis, and Professor Darren Ashcroft. Clinical research often relies on a self-report measure of hearing loss. Our study showed that self-report measurement of hearing loss had limited accuracy and was not sufficiently sensitive to detect hearing loss. Ms. Tsimpida concluded by saying:

“This lack of self awareness of hearing loss is a problem for many people. These findings may inform public health policies relevant to selection of appropriate and validated tools for detecting hearing problems among middle-aged and older adults. The study also provides novel insights into the clinical practice and reinforces the importance of an effective and sustainable hearing loss screening strategy in primary care.”

Provided by: University of Manchester [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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