In May 1999, the American National Council on the Aging released a massive study* titled “The Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss in Older Persons.” The goal of the study was to assess the effects of hearing loss on quality of life and compare these effects for those who wear hearing aids and those who do not.

Respondents in the survey included hearing aid users, hearing-impaired seniors who do not use hearing aids (non users), and significant others (spouse, close family member, or best friend of the hearing-impaired respondent). A total of 2,304 hearing impaired people responded and an additional 2,090 family members or close friends responded to a parallel questionnaire that asked about the hearing impaired person.

Consequences of NOT Treating Hearing Loss
Older people with untreated hearing impairments suffer many negative effects when compared to older, hearing-impaired people who use hearing aids, including:
1. sadness and depression;
2. worry and anxiety;
3. paranoia;
4. less social activity;
5. emotional turmoil and insecurity.

These differences remain when controlling for other factors such as the respondent’s age, gender, and income.

Benefits of Treatment
On the other hand, seniors whose hearing loss is treated by wearing hearing aids often report benefits that include:
1. better relationships with their families;
2. better feelings about themselves;
3. improved mental health;
4. greater independence and security.

Barriers to Treatment
Among non users, the most common reason cited for not using a hearing aid was their belief that they do not need hearing aids. Even among those non users who characterized their hearing loss as severe or profound, more than half denied needing hearing aids. Others cited the expense, their belief that hearing aids do not work, lack of confidence in professionals who treat hearing loss, and the stigma of wearing hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss among older persons is a serious and prevalent problem. The study found that from the mildest to the most severe hearing loss level, hearing-impaired older persons who do not wear hearing aids are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, paranoia and emotional turmoil, compared to people who wear hearing aids.
On the other hand, hearing-impaired older persons who do use hearing aids are more likely than non-users to be involved socially in their neighborhoods, in organized social activities, and at senior centres. Most hearing aid users report significant benefits from the aids—in family relationships, mental health, and other areas that affect the quality of their lives. In all categories, family members observe even greater benefits from the use of hearing aids than do the users themselves.

*For much more on this study, visit the National Council on the Aging website at www.NCOA.org