Image of Michael McKee, M.D., MPH
Michael McKee, M.D., MPH

At least 50% of older adults are likely to have hearing loss, but fully 80% of Americans aged more than 50 years say that their primary care providers have not asked about their hearing in the past two years, according to a new national poll.

In addition, 77% of this group said they haven’t had their hearing tested by a professional in this time, and only 6% of older adults reported that they currently use a device to aid their hearing, the researchers reported.

Investigators queried a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80. The results showed care disparities among respondents. Women were less likely to have had their hearing checked than men. And older adults who self-reported fair or poor physical or mental health overall were less likely to have had their hearing tested in the past two years, despite having higher odds of experiencing hearing loss, said co-author Michael McKee, M.D., MPH., of Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center.

“Age-related hearing loss can have wide-ranging consequences and can be addressed with assistive technologies, yet these data show a major gap in detection, and disparities between groups,” McKee said.

Cost can be a barrier to hearing care as well, noted co-author Philip Zazove, M.D. Health insurance plans vary widely in how they cover hearing screening by primary care providers, hearing tests by audiologists, and hearing aids and cochlear implant purchases, he said.

Many people don’t realize they’ve lost hearing ability unless they’re screened or tested, the researchers said. The findings present a “tremendous opportunity” for primary care and audiology clinicians to team up more effectively, and for health policy decision makers to address the issue, they concluded.

Poll results related to hearing care were published in the National Poll on Healthy Aging.