20% of Americans suffer from a condition associated with dementia

Hearing loss is the kind of ailment that sneaks up on you over time — many people don't even recognize that it's happening). New research shows that its long-term consequences could include dementia. And now, it turns out that hearing loss is far more pervasive than anyone realized.

According to a study published in yesterday's Archives of Internal Medicine over 20% of Americans over the age of 12 suffer from hearing loss in at least one ear — that's about twice as high as previous estimates. As many as 1 in 8 may suffer from hearing loss in both ears.

The study — led by Frank Lin, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University — is based on data collected from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES). The NHANES figures include information on men and women of all ages and races throughout the country, and were used to produce what Lin claims is the first data set to statistically represent hearing loss across the entire U.S. population.

"This gives us the real scope of the problem for the first time and shows us how big of a problem hearing loss really is," explains Lin.

So how do you know if your hearing is going? The researchers defined hearing loss as not being able to hear sounds of 25 decibels or less in speech — a standard set by the World Health Organization. This level of noise comparable to a soft whisper in a quiet library, so if your last visit to the local stacks sounded a little too quiet, you might want to consider consulting an audiologist.

"If [hearing loss is] confirmed, you should really get treated," said Lin, who claims that hearing aids have proven to be a "no-risk" treatment. "It's been clearly established that hearing aids can only help and not hurt."

[LA Times]
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