Duke University study finds hearing aids are underused

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2006 Hearing 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 them.

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 hearing aids.

"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 hampered."

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 consu

Contact: Michael Stewart
InHealth: The Institute for Health Technology Studies

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