Background and Objectives
Hearing loss (HL) is common among older adults and is associated with significant psychosocial, cognitive, and physical sequelae. Hearing aids (HA) can help, but not all individuals with HL use them. This study examines how social determinants may impact HA use.
Research Design and Methods
We conducted an explanatory sequential mixed methods study involving a secondary analysis of a nationally representative data set, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; n = 35,572). This was followed up with 1:1 qualitative interviews (n = 21) with community participants to clarify our findings. Both samples included individuals aged 55 and older with a self-reported HL, with or without HA. The main outcome measure was the proportion of participants with a self-reported HL who use HA.
Results and Discussion
Analysis of HRS data indicated that younger, nonwhite, non-Hispanic, lower income, and less-educated individuals were significantly less likely to use HA than their referent groups (all p values < .001). Area of residence (e.g., urban) were not significantly associated with HA use. Qualitative findings revealed barriers to HA included cost, stigma, vanity, and a general low priority placed on addressing HL by health care providers. Facilitators to obtaining and using HA included family/friend support, knowledge, and adequate insurance coverage for HA.
Many socioeconomic factors hinder individuals’ ability to obtain and use HA, but these obstacles appeared to be mitigated in part when insurance plans provided adequate HA coverage, or when their family/friends provided encouragement to use HA.