ONE in six Australians are currently affected by hearing loss, and as many as one in four are anticipated to be affected by 2050 as the population ages. Hearing loss affects 37% of adults older than 60 and 80% of adults older than 80.2 Globally, the burden of hearing loss is significant, with more than 5% of the world population (360 million people) experiencing disabling hearing loss.
According to WHO estimates, there may be as many as 500 million people over 60 with age-related hearing loss by 2050. Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is the most common cause of hearing loss in the elderly and typically begins its onset in the sixth decade of life.
Men tend to have earlier onset and greater severity when compared with women.4 ARHL can impair the ability to effectively communicate and makes it particularly difficult to hear clearly in the presence of competing background noise. Studies have demonstrated reduced quality of life in those with hearing difficulties.
Hearing loss remains underrecognised and undertreated. It is estimated that only one in four of those who would benefit from a hearing aid have one. Although ARHL is the overwhelming cause of hearing loss in the elderly, there are myriad other potential causes that require recognition and appropriate referral for specialist management.
The aim of this How to Treat is to review the aetiologies, workup, and management of elderly patients presenting with hearing loss. In addition, it aims to raise awareness among GPs of the strong association between hearing loss and incident dementia within the elderly population. The types of hearing loss are outlined in table 1.