Objectives: To assess the association between hearing impairment and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in an older population, using the self-administered 36-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36).
Design: Participants of the Blue Mountains Hearing Study (BMHS, N = 2956) attended a comprehensive interview and hearing examination in which both self-reported and measured hearing impairments were assessed. Hearing impairment was defined as the pure-tone average of air-conduction hearing thresholds >25 decibels hearing level (dB HL) for the four frequencies (0.5 to 4.0 kHz) in the better ear.
Results: Of the 2431 participants with complete data (mean age, 67.0 yr), 1347 (55.4%) did not have measured hearing loss, whereas 324 (13.3%) had unilateral (285 mild, 22 moderate, 17 severe) and 760 (31.3%) had bilateral hearing impairment (478 mild, 207 moderate, 75 severe). After adjusting for demographic and medical confounders, bilateral hearing impairment was associated with poorer SF-36 scores in both physical and mental domains (fall in physical component score, PCS of 1.4 points, p = 0.025; fall in mental component score, MCS of 1.0 point, p = 0.13), with poorer scores associated with more severe levels of impairment (PCS p(trend) = 0.04, MCS p(trend) = 0.003). Participants with bilateral hearing impairment who habitually used hearing aids had a slightly better PCS (mean, 43.1; standard error [SE], 0.9) than those with the same impairment who did not have hearing aids or who only used them occasionally (mean, 41.2; SE 0.5), although this finding was not statistically significant (p = 0.055). Persons with self-reported hearing loss had significantly poorer HRQOL than corresponding persons without, but persons with unilateral or high-frequency hearing loss did not have significantly different HRQOL scores than their corresponding counterparts.
Conclusions: This study quantifies the associated disease burden of age-related hearing impairment on health-related quality of life in a population-based cohort of older persons.