Hearing loss has been tied to accelerated cognitive decline, poorer physical functioning and higher healthcare costs, and now a newly published study concludes that the number of people in the United States who have hearing loss may almost double in the coming decades.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore made the prediction after reviewing U.S. population projection data and current prevalence estimates of hearing loss. Their research letter was published online Thursday by JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, a day before the World Health Organization’s World Hearing Day.

The greatest increase in incidence of hearing loss through 2060 is expected to occur among adults aged 70 or more years, according to the authors. In 2020, the researchers said, 55% of all adults with hearing loss will be aged 70 or more years; in 2060, that statistic will be 67%.

More than two-thirds of U.S. adults aged 70 or more years already have clinically meaningful hearing loss, according to the publication.

Overall, the researchers predict that the number of U.S. adults aged 20 or more years who have hearing loss is expected to increase gradually from 44 million in 2020 (15% of adults) to 74 million by 2060 (23% of adults). The number of adults with moderate or greater hearing loss also will increase gradually during the next 43 years, they said.

The authors recommend that policy makers and public health researchers focus on ways to reduce the incidence and progression of hearing loss as well as ways to treat and prevent hearing loss.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and by the Eleanor Schwartz Charitable Foundation.

Older adults benefit from hearing aid use, study finds

Results of a separate study also released Thursday found that older adults benefit from hearing aid use.

Although the finding sounds obvious, the research is the first-ever placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial of hearing aid outcomes, according to the American Journal of Audiology.

“This is important because, even though millions of Americans have hearing loss, there has been an absence of rigorous clinical research that has demonstrated clear benefits provided by hearing aids to older adults,” said Larry Humes, Ph.D., CCC-A, a faculty at Indiana University Bloomington and the study’s lead author. “Consequently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has not been able to support widespread hearing screening for adults over age 50. This study, along with others to follow, will help establish the evidence base needed to foster better hearing healthcare for many older Americans.”

The study was small, looking at 154 adults aged 55 to 79 years with mild to moderate hearing loss. All participants received the same high-end digital mini hearing aids fitted in both ears.

Subjects were divided into three groups. Members of one group received professional fitting and counseling from audiologists; members of a second group received no professional fitting by an audiologist and selected their own pre-programmed hearing aids; and members of the third group received a professional fitting but used a “placebo” hearing aid that was programmed to provide no acoustical benefit.

Working hearing aids were found to be effective for participants who had been professionally fitted as well as for those who had selected their own pre-programmed devices, although those who had been professionally fitted were more satisfied with their hearing aids and were more likely to buy them after the trial.

That finding may be a key to increasing the use of hearing aids among the almost 29 million U.S. adults who would benefit from them, according to the researchers. Among adults aged 70 or more years with hearing loss, only 30% have ever used them, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which funded this research. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 years (approximately 16%) who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them.