Objectives: Hearing loss is increasingly common among older persons and is negatively associated with health and well-being. Its impact on spouses, however, is poorly researched. This study analyzed the relationship between a spouse's self-assessed hearing loss and his or her partner's physical, psychological, and social well-being 5 years later.
Methods: Subjects were 418 older married couples from the Alameda County Study. Hearing loss and adjustment variables were assessed in 1994 and outcomes in 1999. Longitudinal analyses included multivariate statistical models using generalized estimating equations to adjust for paired data and partners' hearing loss, age, gender, chronic conditions, and financial problems.
Results: Spouse hearing loss increased the likelihood of subsequent poorer physical, psychological, and social well-being in partners. The negative impact of husbands' hearing loss on wives' well-being appears stronger than the reverse.
Discussion: Findings suggest that early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss constitute important clinical strategies to enhance the well-being of both hearing-impaired individuals and their spouses and support policy change to cover hearing devices by insurance. Further research incorporating theoretical perspectives from communication theory and qualitative methodology would enhance understanding of how hearing loss impacts older couples and support refinement of interventions to promote quality of life.