Hearing disability and vision impairment in UK adults: prevalence, co-occurrence and correlates

Contact Name: Dr Piers Dawes

Contact Email: piers.dawes@manchester.ac.uk

My research interests involve auditory processing and developmental psychology from childhood to old age, auditory plasticity and developmental disorders. Research methodologies including qualitative and quantitative techniques, including psychometric, psychophysical and electrophysiological (MEG, EEG and ABR) measures. From 2005-2007 I carried out research into auditory processing disorder (APD) for my Phd, supervised by Professor Dorothy Bishop at the University of Oxford. This research involved characterising the auditory and cognitive profile of children and adults diagnosed with APD in comparison to typical participants and those with dyslexia. This research was funded by Deafness Research UK. In 2008, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of York, where I developed experimental psychometric language tests and psychophysical tests of auditory processing and speech perception for use in a Wellcome Trust-funded 5 year longitudinal study of dyslexia and specific language impairment (Snowling, Hulme and Hayiou-Thomas, chief investigators). I am currently working on a study of auditory plasticity, examining changes in hearing function, listening effort and real-world benefit in relation to hearing aid use in older adults.

Objective

We are the first to describe the prevalence of hearing difficulties in background noise, an ecologically valid measure of hearing disability, in a large and inclusive sample of UK adults aged 40 to 69 years. We also report prevalence of vision impairment and dual sensory problems. Predictive factors of sensory problems were investigated.

Methods

Subsets of the UK Biobank Resource were analysed with respect to self-report of tinnitus, hearing aid and glasses use. Better-eye visual acuity with corrective glasses was assessed with a logMAR chart (n = 116,682). Better-ear unaided speech reception threshold was measured adaptively using the Digit Triplet Test (n = 164,770).

Results

Overall, 10.7% of adults (95%CI 10.5-10.9%) had a significant hearing disability. Prevalence of tinnitus was 16.9% (95%CI 16.6-17.1%) and hearing aid use was 2.0% (95%CI 1.9-2.1%). Prevalence of mild visual impairment and low vision was estimated at 13.1% (95%CI 12.9-13.4%) and 0.8% (95%CI 0.7-0.9%), respectively. Use of glasses was 82.8% (95%CI 82.6-82.9%). The prevalence of dual sensory problems was 2.4% (95%CI 2.2-2.5%). Older adults, those from low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds were most at risk for sensory problems. Noise exposure was an additional risk for hearing problems.

Conclusion

Similar risk factors for hearing, vision and dual sensory problems and a higher than expected prevalence of dual sensory problems suggest possible shared causes. The use of hearing aids has altered little since the 1980s, and they remain significantly underutilised. Vision impairment is common despite widespread use of corrective visual aids.

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