Older Adults Say Hearing Impairment Decreases Quality of Life Both Physically and Mentally

Older Adults Say Hearing Impairment Decreases Quality of Life Both Physically and Mentally


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Americans 65 and over say that hearing impairment affects their quality of life physically and mentally to a greater degree than hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, sciatica and cancer, according to a new study.

The study, “The Prevalence of Hearing Impairment and Its Burden on the Quality of Life Among Adults with Medicare Supplement Insurance,” was conducted by AARP Services, Inc. (ASI), a wholly owned, taxable subsidiary of AARP, and UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) company, and appears in the September issue of the official journal of the International Society of Quality of Life Research. The study surveyed more than 5,500 enrollees in AARP® Medicare Supplement plans insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company (for New York residents, UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company of New York) in 10 states.

The study is the first to focus solely on hearing impairment among those with Medicare Supplement Insurance (i.e., Medigap coverage).

After taking into account all other factors that might have affected the scores, hearing loss itself resulted in an average 3.25-point reduction in Physical Component Score (PCS) and a 3.22-point reduction in Mental Component Score (MCS). These scores provide an estimate of physical and mental health status, measures commonly used to evaluate health-related quality of life. These summary scores were calculated from eight Veterans RAND 12-item Health Survey scales, which measure physical functioning, the ability to handle physical roles, bodily pain, general health, vitality, social functioning, the ability to handle emotional roles and mental health. A change of 3.0 points or more is generally considered clinically meaningful.

“These findings indicate that hearing impairment can affect mental and physical quality of life to a greater degree than hypertension, osteoporosis or even stroke,” said Dr. Richard J. Migliori, executive vice president, Business Initiatives and Clinical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. “Given the significant burden hearing loss has on quality of life, we believe this study highlights an opportunity for physicians to develop treatment programs that enhance not only older adults’ hearing, but also their mental and emotional health.”

“This survey should alert clinicians, their patients and families of the potential negative impact that hearing impairment can have on older adults’ quality of life,” said Dr. Charlotte S. Yeh, chief medical officer of AARP Services, Inc. “Older adults should talk with their doctors about their hearing and learn more about what options are available if they suffer from hearing impairment.”

This is the latest in a series of research studies from the Health Care Transformation Diversity Initiative, which was created to evaluate the presence and nature of disparities in health care among older Americans. Information from these studies may guide efforts to help ameliorate these disparities in the future.

Data for this study were obtained from the Health Update Survey (HUS) and the Veterans RAND 12-item health status survey. The mail survey was fielded on a random sample of 15,000 insureds at least 65 years of age enrolled in an AARP Medicare Supplement plan insured by UnitedHealthcare living in 10 states in 2008. Respondents were divided into those who experienced hearing impairment, and those who did not, based on their response to a question about hearing impairment. Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to estimate the impact of hearing impairment on quality of life while controlling for respondent demographics and other health conditions.

AARP Services, Inc. (ASI), founded in 1999, is a wholly-owned taxable subsidiary of AARP. ASI manages the provider relationships for and performs quality control oversight of the wide range of products and services that carry the AARP name and are made available by independent providers as benefits to AARP’s millions of members. The provider offers currently span health products, financial products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance, credit cards, auto and home insurance, mobile home and motorcycle insurance, life insurance and annuities, member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging, special offers on technology and gifts, pharmacy services, legal services, and long-term care insurance. ASI also engages in new product development activities for AARP and provides certain consulting services to outside companies. In 2005, ASI founded AARP Financial, Inc., a wholly-owned taxable subsidiary that provides access to proprietary investment products and services, including mutual funds and financial guidance, designed to meet the needs of investors at any life stage.

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.