Research Article| Volume 121, P35-40, March 2019

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Adverse effect of self-reported hearing disability in elderly Italians: Results from the InveCe.Ab study


      • Male gender, age, functional and cognitive status, and depressive symptoms are associated with consistency between self-reported hearing disability and clinician-evaluated hearing status.
      • Elderly individuals with self-reported hearing disability are more likely to undergo subsequent functional and cognitive decline, and to experience depression.
      • Elderly subjects unaware of their hearing problems could be exposed to adverse consequences when they are informed of a hearing problem.
      • When clinicians inform those who are unaware of their hearing problems they should recommend interventions in order to prevent a negative impact of awareness of hearing loss.



      Hearing loss is a common chronic condition in elderly people. The prevalence of disabling hearing loss among the elderly worldwide is 33% and in Italy ranges from 0.6% (profound hearing loss) to 39% (mild hearing loss). We investigated the relationship between self-reported hearing disability and clinician-evaluated hearing status, and its longitudinal consequences in relation to cognitive impairment and functional decline. We hypothesised that subjects who report that they have a hearing disability have a worse functional and cognitive profile than people who do not report having a hearing disability.


      We analysed 1171 participants in the InveCe.Ab study, a longitudinal population-based study. We evaluated whether self-reported hearing disability was consistent with clinician-evaluated hearing status (using the Whispered Voice Test; WVT), categorizing this variable as: unaware of hearing loss (UHL), aware of hearing loss (AHL), only subjective hearing loss (OSHL), without hearing loss (noHL). We also examined its relationship with various population characteristics, and its long-term effects on functional and cognitive performance and depressive symptoms.


      At baseline, hearing loss was found in 13.6% (95% CI: 11.7–15.7) of the participants [17.6% (95% CI: 12.0–24.4) AHL; 82.4% (95% CI: 75.6–88) UHL], while 2.3% (95% CI: 1.4–3.4) of the subjects with normal WVT hearing status had OSHL. Male gender, age, functional and cognitive performance, and depressive symptoms were associated with consistency between self-reported hearing disability and WVT hearing status. Longitudinal analysis revealed worsening functional performance and selective attention, global cognitive deterioration, and depressive symptoms in the AHL group.


      Our results showed that awareness of hearing disability in the elderly has adverse cognitive and functional consequences over time. When clinicians inform those who are unaware of their hearing problems, they should arrange for prompt referral not only for audiometric evaluation but also for counselling in order to prevent a negative impact of awareness of hearing loss.


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