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Poor Hearing Common Among Elderly People in the UK

Editor's note - Audiology Online is proud to offer this press release from THE LANCET to our readers.

Reduced hearing is common-and the provision of hearing aids inadequate-among elderly people in the UK, conclude authors of a study in this week's issue of THE LANCET. The study also highlights how many elderly people do not use hearing aids regularly, and that socially disabling hearing loss is common even when hearing aids are used.

Hearing loss in elderly people is important because it is disabling and potentially treatable. The study team of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Trial of the Assessment and Management of Older People in the Community (led by Astrid Fletcher from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK,) aimed to assess the prevalence of reduced hearing in elderly people and levels of ownership and use of hearing aids.

The investigators used data from the MRC General Practice Research Framework, a cross-sectional survey of people aged 75 years or older in 106 family practices in the UK. Self-reported data on hearing difficulties were obtained for around 32,650 people; around 14,900 were given a whispered voice test to assess hearing performance.

2537 (8%) of the participants reported a lot of difficulty hearing and 13 630 (42%) a little or a lot of difficulty. Around a quarter of participants given the whispered voice test failed the test (3795 [26%]), the proportion increasing sharply with age. Nearly half the participants who wore a hearing aid at the time of testing failed the whispered voice test (998 of 2180 [46%]). More than half the people who failed the test did not own a hearing aid. 2200 (only 60%) of 3846 people who owned a hearing aid said they used it regularly.

Liam Smeeth (one of the investigators) comments: "A major source of morbidity in elderly people could be alleviated by improvements in detection and management of reduced hearing. However, raising levels of ownership of hearing aids in elderly people, improving performance of aids, and increasing the amount of time that they are worn are major challenges for health-care systems."

Contact: Dr Liam Smeeth, Epidemiology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, England.

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