JHS 2014; 4(1): EA49-60
Worldwide, the population is aging at an unprecedented rate and life expectancies are higher than ever before. Diseases of aging that have been associated with severe hearing impairment – from depression and dementia to increased risk of falls – can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences to individuals and society as a whole. The promise of restoring hearing and giving quality of life back to older adults with age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is a challenging and multi-faceted research topic. ARHL is currently one of the major handicaps found in elderly people, affecting more than 30% of the population over the age of 65.
In January 2014, Med-El GmbH organized an international workshop in New York City on Hearing Implants for Older Adults, which was attended by more than 120 outstanding international hearing professionals. Researchers from a range of hearing science disciplines presented data on the morphologic and physiologic bases of ARHL, geriatric audiology, cognition and hearing, the aging brain, electrophysiology, physical and perceptual changes of aging, hearing implant surgery, and outcomes as well as balance and fall risks.
An important topic discussed was hearing technologies as alternatives to help individuals suffering from severe ARHL who cannot achieve sufficient speech comprehension with conventional hearing aids. A combined electric-acoustic solution may be particularly suited for persons with ARHL because the hearing loss configuration typically presents with relatively good hearing in the low frequencies and poor hearing in the high frequencies, which qualifies candidates for electrical stimulation, either alone or in combination with acoustic amplification, while preserving low frequency hearing.
Further, recent clinical research has shown that there is no upper age limit to receiving hearing implants. Elderly cochlear implant users enjoy improved quality of life with similar performance outcomes to those achieved in younger adults, which is promising for people facing progressive and severe hearing loss.
ARHL is an exciting research topic that has been embraced by scientists from around the world. It is also an important public health issue that deserves attention from health care providers, policymakers and the media.
Christoph von Ilberg
Keywords: hearing implants, older adults, geriatric audiology