The results of a new clinical trial published in the American Journal of Audiology has the hearing industry buzzing. It is the first research of its kind to utilize the placebo-controlled, double-blind randomized methodology considered to be the highest standard for achieving credible results. The outcome supported what hearing care professionals have long believed — wearing hearing aids, specifically those traditionally manufactured and provided to patients under the care of hearing care professionals — offer measurable benefits to older adults with hearing loss.
Hearing aids vs. “over-the-counter” amplifiers
The study was conducted at Indiana University and funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). It compared patient outcomes between test subjects receiving hearing aids from a hearing care professional (the traditional model), subjects receiving “placebo” hearing aids, and those receiving over-the-counter (OTC) devices without a professional fitting.
The group wearing OTC devices expressed greater dissatisfaction than those fit with hearing aids according to hearing care best practices. Only 55 percent said they were likely to purchase the OTC devices after the trial compared to 81 percent of those traditionally fit (and only 36 percent for the placebo group, who were fit with devices that didn’t actually provide any amplification or other treatment). Satisfaction also increased when members of both the OTC and traditionally fit groups were offered hearing aids with fitting and follow-up care from a hearing care professional after the trial.
Why the findings are important for those with hearing loss
The research team concluded that we now have “firm evidence” hearing aids fit by audiology professionals actually provide significant benefits to those older adults with hearing loss. This finding establishes a basis for recommending all adults over the age of 50 receive hearing screenings as part of their regular healthcare, and will hopefully lead to increased access to hearing healthcare in general.
Approximately 29 million adults in the United States would benefit from wearing aids, especially those age 70 and older. Yet only about 30 percent wear them. Among younger people with hearing loss the rate of hearing aid wear is even worse — only about 16 percent of those 20-69 who would hear better with hearing aids use them. Ideally, the results of this study will encourage more physicians to recommend annual hearing tests and increase referrals to hearing care professionals for treatment on behalf of patients showing signs of hearing loss.