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Keywords:

  • hearing loss;
  • presbycusis;
  • epidemiology;
  • risk factors;
  • race;
  • sex

Objectives: To determine the prevalence of and risk factors for hearing loss in a sample of 2,052 older adults (aged 73–84; 46.9% male, 37.3% black) enrolled in the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study.

Design: Cross-sectional analysis of a longitudinal cohort study.

Setting: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee, areas.

Participants: Random sample of Medicare beneficiary subjects enrolled in the Health ABC program from 1997 to 1998. They included 2,052 individuals: 660 white men (32.2%), 631 white women (30.8%), 310 black men (15.1%), and 451 black women (22.0%). Participants ranged in age from 73 to 84, with a mean age of 77.5.

Measurements: Hearing sensitivity was measured using pure-tone threshold testing. Hearing loss was defined based on two averages of hearing thresholds: 500, 1,000, and 2,000 Hz greater than 25-decibel (dB) hearing level (HL) (hearing loss); and 2,000, 4,000, and 8,000 Hz greater than 40-dB HL (high-frequency hearing loss). Potential hearing loss correlates, including demographics, medical history, ototoxic medication use, occupational noise exposure, and lifestyle factors, were collected via questionnaire.

Results: The prevalence of hearing loss was 59.9%; the prevalence of high-frequency hearing loss was 76.9%. Hearing loss was most common in white men, followed by white women, black men, and black women. Older age, white race, diabetes mellitus, cerebrovascular disease, smoking, poorer cognitive status, occupational noise exposure, and ear surgery were associated with hearing loss after multivariable adjustment. Race- and sex-specific risk factors included higher blood pressure and occupational noise exposure (white men), poorer cognitive status and smoking (black women), and low total hip bone mineral density (black men). Possible protective factors included salicylate use (overall sample, black men) and moderate alcohol intake (black women).

Conclusion: Hearing loss was extremely common in this population. Because many of the identified hearing loss risk factors are modifiable, some of the burden associated with hearing loss in older people should be preventable.