This clinical, practice-based study explores the research question: Is there a relationship between hearing loss and functional disturbance in elderly patients? We analyzed the impact of hearing impairment on 153 patients over 65 years of age screened in primary care practice. Functional and psychosocial impairment were measured using the Sickness Impact Profile (SIP), a standardized measure for assessing sickness related dysfunction. Hearing level was determined with pure tone audiometry. Multiple linear regression was used to adjust for patient case-mix differences and other clinical variables. After adjustment, a 10 dB increase in hearing loss was found to result in a 2.8 point increase in Physical SIP scores (95% confidence interval = 1.8-3.8), a 2.0 point increase in psychosocial SIP scores (95% confidence interval = 0.8-3.2) and a 1.3 point increase in overall SIP scores (95% confidence interval = 0.1-2.5). Poor hearing was associated with higher SIP scores and increased dysfunction. Thus, hearing impairment is an important determinant of function in the elderly.