Can you hear me now? 1 in 5 in U.S. suffers hearing loss

By Linda Carroll for MSNBC, November 14th, 2011

Nearly one in five Americans has significant hearing loss, far more than previously estimated, a first-ever national analysis finds.

That means more than 48 million people across the United States have impairments so severe that it’s impossible for them to make out what a companion is saying over the din of a crowded restaurant,  said Dr. Frank Lin, author of a new study published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“It’s pretty jaw-dropping how big it is,” said Lin, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Previous estimates had pegged the number affected by hearing loss at between 21 million and 29 million.

Lin and other researchers were surprised at the magnitude of the problem, but the significance of the findings goes beyond the “wow” factor, he said.

That’s because other studies have shown that hearing decline is often accompanied by losses in cognition and memory. Further, Lin said, some studies have associated hearing loss with a greater risk of dementia.

Lin’s study is the first to look at the hearing loss in a national sample of Americans aged 12 and older who have actually had their hearing tested. Earlier studies were smaller or depended on people’s self-reports of hearing loss.

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