Context: Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults and has important effects on their physical and mental health. Despite these effects, most older patients are not assessed or treated for hearing loss.
Objective: To review the evidence on screening and management of hearing loss of older adults in the primary care setting.
Data sources and study selection: We performed a search from 1985 to 2001 using MEDLINE, HealthSTAR, EMBASE, Ageline, and the National Guideline Clearinghouse for articles and practice guidelines about screening and management of hearing loss in older adults, as well as reviewed references in these articles and those suggested by experts in hearing impairment.
Data extraction: We reviewed articles for the most clinically important information, emphasizing randomized clinical trials, where available, and identified 1595 articles.
Data synthesis: Screening tests that reliably detect hearing loss are use of an audioscope, a hand-held combination otoscope and audiometer, and a self-administered questionnaire, the Hearing Handicap Inventory for the Elderly-Screening version. The value of routine screening for improving patient outcomes has not been evaluated in a randomized clinical trial. Screening is endorsed by most professional organizations, including the US Preventive Services Task Force. While most hearing loss in older adults is sensorineural and due to presbycusis, cerumen impaction and chronic otitis media may be present in up to 30% of elderly patients with hearing loss and can be treated by the primary care clinician. In randomized trials, hearing aids have been demonstrated to improve outcomes for patients with sensorineural hearing loss. Nonadherence to use of hearing aids is high. Prompt recognition of potentially reversible causes of hearing loss, such as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, is important to maximize the possibility of functional recovery.
Conclusion: While untested in a clinical trial, older adults can be screened for hearing loss using simple methods, and effective treatments exist and are available for many forms of hearing loss.