Five-Year Incidence and Progression of Hearing Impairment in an Older Population

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There are few epidemiological surveys that have examined age-related hearing loss in an older Australian population. This study reports the prevalence, 5-yr incidence, and progression of hearing impairment in a representative sample of older persons.


The Blue Mountains Hearing Study (BMHS) is a population-based survey of age-related hearing loss conducted among participants of the Blue Mountains Eye Study cohort. During the period 1997–1999, 2956 had audiometric testing done. Of these, 870 participants without hearing loss and 439 with hearing loss were re-examined from 2002 to 2004.


Some degree of hearing loss was present in 33.0% of this population at baseline. Prevalence of hearing loss increased with age, sex-adjusted (odds ratio [OR] 3.5, 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.1–3.9), with men 70% more likely than women to have hearing loss. The 5-yr incidence of hearing impairment was 17.9%. For each decade of age older than 60 yrs, the risk of hearing loss increased threefold, OR 3.9 (CI 2.3–3.8). Gender was not associated with incident hearing loss OR. However, high occupational prestige was associated with decreased incidence of hearing loss OR 0.6 (CI 0.40–0.94). The 5-yr progression of hearing loss defined as a difference in pure-tone average that exceeded 10 dB was relatively high (15.7%). At the baseline hearing study and at the 5-yr follow-up hearing study, 57.4% and 59.7% of hearing impaired subjects, respectively, reported using a hearing aid for a maximum of 5 yrs.


Hearing loss was a frequent sensory disability, with one in three persons having a hearing impairment, and of these, almost one in two showing a decline in hearing over a 5-yr period. This information can potentially contribute to the planning and resource investment in auditory rehabilitation services for older Australians.

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