Senior Boomers with Hearing Loss—Who are They?

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By Richard E. Carmen, Au.D.

There are more than 34 million people today with hearing loss – a growing number as boomers continue to age.  The first of the boomer population of 70 million has already started retiring, and we know they’ll seek products or services that enable them to live youthful, active and social lives. The first of the boomers came of age in 1963, during a very turbulent time in our country.

The events of the boomer’s formative years created two attitudes that are important to hearing health professions. Both segments of the baby boom generation are self-focused and are committed to maintaining their youth. We can expect this focus to become even stronger as boomers continue to age. Unfortunately, there are some significant indications that because of their high stress lifestyle, boomers are not aging as well as they would like. In the federally funded Health and Retirement Study, boomers were much less likely than previous generations to describe their health as “excellent” or “very good.” 

When it comes to hearing health, the years of enjoying rock and roll music are taking their toll. The 2006 EAR Foundation and Clarity Study found 53 percent of baby boomers are already reporting at least “mild” hearing loss.   

Most people with hearing loss choose to do nothing about it. There are about as many Americans suffering from heart disease as those with untreated hearing loss. Can you imagine if 80 percent of heart disease victims resisted treatment? Surely there is no greater number of Americans needlessly suffering from any other malady than that of untreated hearing loss. 

Do You have a Hearing Loss? (Be honest)

Answer YES or NO to the following questions:

___ 1. Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
___ 2. Do you have trouble following conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
___ 3. Do people complain you turn the TV volume up too high?
___ 4. Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
___ 5. Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
___ 6. Is it difficult to localize from where sound is coming?
___ 7. Do many people you talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
___ 8. Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
___ 9. Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
___ 10. Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

(Answering even Yes on one question indicates you may have a problem. The best way to address this is to seek a hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist in your community.)

Here are what should be Your Concerns

There are consequences to untreated hearing loss. It’s not pretty. Among a myriad of secondary conditions* that result from untreated hearing loss, foremost is depression. More than 18,000,000 people age 18 and older have a diagnosable depressive disorder in the US. The disease burden of mental illness on health and productivity in the U.S. is more than the disease burden caused by all cancers. The average age of onset is the mid-20s, it affects twice as many women as men, and by the year 2020, it is projected that mental illness will increase its present burden on society by 50 percent.6 Typically, depression associated with hearing loss happens gradually as the hearing loss becomes more debilitating.

If you are a loved one of someone with untreated hearing loss, but are met with persistent resistance, it is possible that depression could be an underlying cause. Ideally, it might be highly informative for you (and your loved one) to complete the simple questionnaire in Table 3-1. It shows the symptoms of depression in older adults.If a YES response occurs to four or more of these symptoms and the symptoms have been present for two weeks or longer, depression may be a factor. A psychological evaluation and/or treatment may be indicated. At this point, consulting your physician or licensed therapist would be an advisable next step.

Hearing Loss and Depression are Corroborated

The presence of hearing loss in and of itself may be a contributor to depression. A study by Bridges and Bentler in 1998 revealed that depression was significantly more prevalent among those with hearing loss. In a six-year longitudinal study by Wallhagen and his team (published in 1996) comprised 356 hard-of-hearing men and women age 65 and older. They reported more than a three-fold likelihood of depression at the six-year follow-up among the hard-of-hearing participants. In yet another study comprising over two thousand subjects (Strawbridge WJ, Wallhagen MI, Shema, et al in 2000), scientists concluded that participants reporting moderate or more hearing loss were twice as likely to be depressed as persons reporting no hearing loss. This should come as alarming news. 

*Secondary conditions also include paranoia, anger, anxiety, nervousness, irritability, isolation, disorientation, fear, avoidance, self-criticism, social phobias and confusion.

Author Bio

Dr. Carmen has been an active scientist in the field for 35 years and written extensively as a regular contributor to various hearing journals. He’s been author, co-author or chapter contributor for several books and a board member for a number of national associations. He can be reached at rcarmen27@yahoo.com.

Resources

This article is based on two books by Dr. Carmen: 

  • How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships – Motivating Your Loved One (Auricle Ink Publishers, 2005)
  • The Consumer Handbook on Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids: A Bridge to Healing (Auricle Ink Publishers, 2009).

For more information go to www.HearingProblems.com