Age Related Hearing Loss is More Severe in Those Over 80, but Gen Z can Hope for Better Outcomes

old woman

Hearing loss affects those over 90 more than previously thought.

In a 2016 study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, researchers examined if the rate of age-related hearing loss is constant in the "older old" (80 years and older). Since most studies group everyone age 70 or older into one category, it was unclear if hearing loss progressed at the same pace or advanced more quickly in relevance to aging. The study's authors noted that age-related hearing loss currently affects two out of three adults aged 70 and over, and four out of five adults aged 85 and older.

The U.S. population that is older than 80 years is projected to double in the next 40 years, according to the JAMA study, which included 647 patients 80 to 106 years of age. Research found that hearing loss between the age of 80 and 90 years was more profound and rapidly advancing than priorly thought, and hearing loss after the age of 90 was even more rapidly progressing and more severe.

Although the average number of seniors over the age of 70 who wear hearing aids is only around 30%, in this study 59% of the individuals wore hearing aids. The study noted that hearing aids are still underused in the target population despite the "universal potential benefit that increases with age." It was suggested that hearing aids be viewed as being as important as daily medications, and that the use of aids as a lifestyle modification should be encouraged among seniors by both family and hearing professionals.

The study concluded with the reminder that untreated hearing loss is associated with higher risks for many adverse affects, including:

  • Social isolation
  • Inability to work
  • Reduced activity levels
  • Falls
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Overall, future generations may look forward to less incidence and severity of hearing loss; according to a 2017 study in JAMA, hearing loss is decreasing in prevalence and rapidity of progression among those aged 20-64, and the stigma associated with hearing aid use is weakening.The reasons behind this declining trend are unclear, but could include reduction in exposure to occupational noise due to OSHA regulations, better hearing protection, and sound dampening methods for lessening noise in loud workplaces as well as less factory and manufacturing jobs that require exposure to extreme workplace noise (thanks to automation.) Other factors could be the national decline in smoking, better long term management of cardiovascular conditions, hypertension, and diabetes, and access to better healthcare leading to more rapid and effective treatment of ear infections.

A 2016 study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery examined if the rate of age-related hearing loss is constant in the “older old” (80 years and older).