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Research Letter
October 2017

Age-Related Hearing Loss and Communication Breakdown in the Clinical Setting

Author Affiliations
  • 1School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;143(10):1054-1055. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2017.1248

Recent analyses have highlighted a significant increase in the rate of hearing loss in patients 60 years and older.1 The estimated prevalence of bilateral hearing loss greater than 25 dB is 27% among patients age 60 to 69 years; 55%, 70 to 79 years; and 79%, 80 years and older.1 The prevalence of medical errors is higher among older patients, and they are also among the most dependent users of the health care system.2 Failures in clinical communication are considered to be the leading cause of medical errors.2 Walsh and colleagues3 reported that improved communication between the medical teams and families could have prevented 36% of medical errors. However, the contribution of hearing loss to medical errors among older patients is nascent. While audiometry is an effective method of diagnosis of hearing impairment, not all impaired listeners will have the same speech comprehension, despite having similar pure-tone thresholds and configurations.4 In the present study, qualitative analysis was applied to semistructured interview data collected in 100 older adults 60 years and older. Baseline prevalence was calculated for communication breakdown in hospital and primary care settings among adults reporting hearing loss. We also identified common, discrete aspects of a clinical consultation that older adults with hearing loss may find difficult and which may be contributing toward medical error.

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