James T. Pacala, MD, MS; Bevan Yueh, MD, MPH[+] Author Affiliations
Author Affiliations: Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health (Dr Pacala); and Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery (Dr Yueh), University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis.
Hearing loss is common in older adults. Patients, clinicians, and health care staff often do not recognize hearing loss, particularly in its early stages, and it is undertreated. Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis, the most common type of hearing loss in older adults, is a multifactorial sensorineural loss that frequently includes a component of impaired speech discrimination. Simple office-based screening and evaluation procedures can identify potential hearing disorders, which should prompt audiologic referral to confirm the diagnosis with audiometric testing. The mainstay of treatment is amplification. For many older adults, accepting the need for amplification, selecting and purchasing a hearing aid, and getting accustomed to its use is a daunting and often frustrating process. There are numerous barriers to hearing aid use, the most common of which is dissatisfaction with its performance across a range of sonic environments. Newer digital hearing aids have many features that improve performance, making them potentially more acceptable to users, but they are expensive and are not covered by Medicare. Hearing aids have been demonstrated to improve hearing function and hearing-related quality of life (QOL), but evidence is less robust for improving overall QOL. Depending upon the etiology of the hearing loss, other medical and surgical procedures, including cochlear implantation, may benefit older adults. Older adults with multiple morbidities and who are frail pose specific challenges for the management of hearing loss. These patients may require integration of hearing assessment and treatment as part of functional assessment in an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to care.