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University study finds hearing aids are underused
Upwards of 50 percent of
hearing aid users are not satisfied
loss can contribute to strained relationships with family and
friends, depression and even a deterioration of basic well-being,
but only one in five Americans who could benefit from a hearing aid
has one – and just one-third of those who have hearing aids use
These are among the key findings of a literature review
conducted by the Medical Technology Assessment Working Group
at Duke University. Researchers found consistent evidence
that hearing loss contributes to a decline in quality of
life, particularly among the elderly.
However, they also found no research in existence documenting
how hearing devices can enhance everyday experiences.
Approximately six million people in the United States use a
hearing aid, most for treating moderate hearing loss, but 35 to 50
percent of hearing aid users are not satisfied, the study found.
Hearing aids are being underused, in part the Duke team
reasoned, because of social attitudes that reflect misunderstandings
about hearing loss (e.g., beliefs that hearing loss is inevitable
later in life) and because of the cost and possible inconvenience of
"One area of critical need is understanding the barriers to
hearing aid use that contribute to irregular use of hearing devices
by those who have them," said Linda K. George, Ph.D., professor and
project director of the study.
"Until these areas are better
understood, continued innovations in hearing aid devices will be
The report noted that it would not be surprising to find that
the use of devices for hearing loss is associated with substantial
increases in productivity and other social contributions, but as
yet, the issue has not been validated by research.
Investigators also found that research to date devotes little
attention on matching consumers to specific types of hearing devices
(e.g., cochlear implants, hearing aids) and the extent to which
consumers can choose among devices. The Duke team urged more
research be undertaken to understand the impact of hearing devices
on social, emotional and physical disabilities, as well as the
consumer effects of patient education on the use of these devices.
As found in other disease fields examined by the Duke team
(including sensory, musculoskeletal, renal, cardiovascular, and
cancer), available information on device evaluation lags
substantially behind advances in technologies. For example, most of
the evidence available to the researchers was based on hearing
devices that have been superceded by newer versions.
The study examined the impact of medical technologies on
treatment of hearing loss, with emphasis on the elderly population,
and is part of larger study funded by a grant from InHealth: The
Institute for Health Technology Studies, to examine the effects of
medical technology on patients, particularly those who have
completed treatment or received care. InHealth is a nonprofit
research and education organization that studies the role, impact
and value of medical technology through non-restricted grants to
independent, academic investigators.
"Hearing aids are a great example of how medical technology
can have a profound effect on quality of life for millions of
people," said Executive Director, Martyn Howgill. "We need a better
understanding of why people are not using hearing devices in order
to improve hearing aid technology in ways that would surely aid
untold millions of potential recipients."