Screening for Hearing Loss in Older Adults: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2021 Mar 23;325(12):1202-1215. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.24855.


Importance: Hearing loss is common in older adults and associated with adverse health and social outcomes.

Objective: To update the evidence review on screening for hearing loss in adults 50 years or older to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, and trial registries through January 17, 2020; references; and experts; literature surveillance through October 8, 2020.

Study selection: English-language studies of accuracy, screening, and interventions for screen-detected or newly detected hearing loss.

Data extraction and synthesis: Dual review of abstracts, full-text articles, and study quality. Meta-analysis of screening test accuracy studies.

Main outcomes and measures: Quality of life and function, other health and social outcomes, test accuracy, and harms.

Results: Forty-one studies (N = 26 386) were included, 18 of which were new since the previous review. One trial enrolling US veterans (n = 2305) assessed the benefits of screening; there was no significant difference in the proportion of participants experiencing a minimum clinically important difference in hearing-related function at 1 year (36%-40% in the screened groups vs 36% in the nonscreened group). Thirty-four studies (n = 23 228) evaluated test accuracy. For detecting mild hearing loss (>20-25 dB), single-question screening had a pooled sensitivity of 66% (95% CI, 58%-73%) and a pooled specificity of 76% (95% CI, 68%-83%) (10 studies, n = 12 637); for detecting moderate hearing loss (>35-40 dB), pooled sensitivity was 80% (95% CI, 68%-88%) and pooled specificity was 74% (95% CI, 59%-85%) (6 studies, n = 8774). In 5 studies (n = 2820) on the Hearing Handicap Inventory for the Elderly-Screening to detect moderate hearing loss (>40 dB), pooled sensitivity was 68% (95% CI, 52%-81%) and pooled specificity was 78% (95% CI, 67%-86%). Six trials (n = 853) evaluated amplification vs control in populations with screen-detected or recently detected hearing loss over 6 weeks to 4 months. Five measured hearing-related function via the Hearing Handicap Inventory for the Elderly; only 3 that enrolled veterans (n = 684) found a significant difference considered to represent a minimal important difference (>18.7 points). Few trials reported on other eligible outcomes, and no studies reported on harms of screening or interventions.

Conclusions and relevance: Several screening tests can adequately detect hearing loss in older adults; no studies reported on the harms of screening or treatment. Evidence showing benefit from hearing aids on hearing-related function among adults with screen-detected or newly detected hearing loss is limited to studies enrolling veterans.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Hearing Aids
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis*
  • Hearing Loss / rehabilitation
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / diagnosis
  • Hearing Tests
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening* / adverse effects
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity