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Public Health Perspectives on Hearing Loss and Aging Outcomes
It is no surprise to the readers of Seminars in Hearing that hearing loss among adults is significant and may impact important gerontologic functions. However, the audiology and hearing science community tends to take for granted that our daily interaction with adults with hearing loss offers a unique window into understanding the impact of hearing loss. Among the greater academic medicine and health community as well as the public, hearing loss has often been viewed as a benign aspect of aging. This could not be further from the truth. Recent research suggests hearing loss is associated with important health outcomes among older adults, most notably cognitive decline and dementia. We now find hearing loss as a hot topic in public health. Major academic publications, such as The Lancet, are including hearing loss in reviews of dementia and even finding hearing plays a larger-than-expected role in dementia risk.
In this issue of Seminars in Hearing, we have brought together a diverse group of researchers from medical, epidemiological, biostatistical, and public health backgrounds to build on the momentum of other researchers, presenting a series of articles on gerontologic outcomes associated with hearing loss. Our hope is to compliment the work to date as well as improve the reader's eye for academic articles presenting studies of hearing loss and gerontologic outcomes.
The issue kicks off with a piece by Jennifer Deal and colleagues on reading and interpreting epidemiologic studies. In this piece, the reader will be introduced to many of the foundational principles of epidemiology that will aid in interpreting and digesting the studies in this issue. Next, Rahul K. Sharma and colleagues offer a scoping review of the literature to date at the intersection of hearing loss, depression, and cognitive decline. The authors break down the concepts at the heart of this complicated area of work and present different mediating pathways to explain the role hearing loss plays.
Reed et al, Fioravante et al, and Mahmoudi et al explore how hearing loss is associated with health care utilization, an emerging area of research. First, Reed et al present an association between self-report trouble hearing and a higher rate of hospitalization among Medicare beneficiaries, and that hearing aid use may modify this association. Next, Fioravante et al offer a first-in-kind analysis of hearing loss and preventative care utilization. This important piece fills a critical gap in the literature by suggesting that adults with hearing loss are less likely to utilize preventative care. Underutilization of preventative care may explain the association between hearing loss and higher health care spending and emergency department utilization found in previous studies, as poor preventative care utilization is a known contributor to catastrophic and expensive emergency care. Finally, Mahmoudi et al demonstrate that adults with hearing loss have unmet needs in health care and are not accessing care compared with those without hearing loss.
Goman et al, Powell et al, and Shakarchi et al look at how hearing loss is associated with important health outcomes. Goman et al use data from a pilot study of hearing care and cognitive decline to suggest adults with hearing loss is associated with reduced engagement in mental activities. Powell et al utilize 20 years of the National Health Interview Survey data to present a robust analysis showing hearing loss is associated with higher risk of injury and falls. Finally, Shakarchi et al explore dual sensory loss and walking speed. This piece uses longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study on the often-ignored area of dual sensory loss, which is common among older adults, and found dual sensory loss is associated with incident slow walking speed relative to vision or hearing loss alone.
We hope you enjoy.
15 April 2021 (online)
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