Older Adults Say Hearing Impairment Decreases Quality of Life

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Americans 65 and over say that hearing impairment affects their quality of life physically and mentally to a greater degree than hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, sciatica and cancer, according to a new study.

The study is the first to focus solely on hearing impairment among those with Medicare Supplement Insurance (ie, Medigap coverage).The study, “The Prevalence of Hearing Impairment and Its Burden on the Quality of Life Among Adults with Medicare Supplement Insurance,” was conducted by AARP Services Inc., a wholly owned, taxable subsidiary of AARP, and UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, and appears in the September issue of Quality of Life Research, the official journal of the International Society of Quality of Life Research. The study surveyed more than 5,500 enrollees in AARP Medicare Supplement plans insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company (for New York residents, UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company of New York) in 10 states.

After taking into account all other factors that might have affected the scores, hearing loss itself resulted in an average 3.25-point reduction in Physical Component Score (PCS) and a 3.22-point reduction in Mental Component Score (MCS). These scores provide an estimate of physical and mental health status, measures commonly used to evaluate health-related quality of life. These summary scores were calculated from eight Veterans RAND 12-item Health Survey scales, which measure physical functioning, the ability to handle physical roles, bodily pain, general health, vitality, social functioning, the ability to handle emotional roles and mental health. A change of 3.0 points or more is generally considered clinically meaningful.

“These findings indicate that hearing impairment can affect mental and physical quality of life to a greater degree than hypertension, osteoporosis or even stroke,” said Dr. Richard J. Migliori, executive vice president, Business Initiatives and Clinical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. “Given the significant burden hearing loss has on quality of life, we believe this study highlights an opportunity for physicians to develop treatment programs that enhance not only older adults’ hearing, but also their mental and emotional health.”

“This survey should alert clinicians, their patients and families of the potential negative impact that hearing impairment can have on older adults’ quality of life,” said Dr. Charlotte S. Yeh, chief medical officer of AARP Services, Inc. “Older adults should talk with their doctors about their hearing and learn more about what options are available if they suffer from hearing impairment.”

This is the latest in a series of research studies from the Health Care Transformation Diversity Initiative, which was created to evaluate the presence and nature of disparities in health care among older Americans. Information from these studies may guide efforts to help ameliorate these disparities in the future.