The recent Johns Hopkins survey of hearing loss in the United States, which finds that one in five Americans aged 12 and over suffers from hearing loss, shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it’s still a shocker, especially when you realize that only a small minority of that 20 percent is getting any help for their hearing loss.
Those of us who write about hearing loss usually cite government data putting the number in the range of 30 to 35 million Americans. The Johns Hopkins study says 30 million American adults–about 12 percent–have hearing loss in two ears, and that 48 million, or 20 percent, have hearing loss in at least one ear.
The survey also uses the World Health Organization’s definition of hearing loss: not being able to hear sounds of 25 decibels or less in speech frequencies. So the results are relevant to the hearing health care profession.
The Johns Hopkins hearing-loss survey is important because it’s hard to find current data from an impeccable source. Johns Hopkins is one of the world’s top public-health research institutions, so its count is probably the most accurate new assessment of the prevalence of hearing loss in the U.S. The survey used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the painstaking methodology the researchers used provide credibility to their claim that the results are representative of a cross-section of Americans.
The study’s authors say the findings “suggest that many more people than previously thought are affected by this condition,” which isn’t a surprise, as they used more recent data than many of the other studies that are more often quoted. It just reinforces the intuitive conclusion that as the Baby Boom generation ages, the incidence of hearing loss across the population is going to increase at a predictable rate.
But the “one in five” headline is still a shocker. Especially when you realize that only a small minority of that 20 percent is getting any help for their hearing loss. Let’s see if the headlines make a difference.