For a long time, it was commonly believed that hearing loss would be extremely prevalent in the Baby Boomer generation – the generation of people born between 1946 and 1964 – due to the excessive amounts of loud rock ‘n’ roll and metal music they listened to in their youth. However, a recent study performed by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine reveals that the prevalence of hearing loss in the Baby Boomers may not be as bad as once thought.
The study was comprised of over 5,000 adults born in the early- and mid-1900s. This age group includes the parents of the Baby Boomers as well as the Baby Boomers themselves, allowing us to analyze the progress of healthy hearing across generations.
Surprisingly, the study found that the Baby Boomer generation (adults born between 1946 and 1964) showed less hearing loss than their parents did (adults born between 1930 and 1935). There was nearly a 21% decrease in the rate of hearing impairment across generations: 58.1% of the pre-Baby Boomer generation indicated signs of hearing impairment whereas only 36.4% of all adults in the Baby Boomer generation showed signs of hearing loss. Stricter rules about workplace noise, fewer people in loud workplaces, reduced smoking, and better health care are all possible explanations for these results .
The older generation of adults involved in this study was also involved in the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study – a study funded by the National Institute on Aging that has tracked hearing loss in volunteers from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, since 1993. This study combined with the University of Wisconsin study provides critical evidence that age-related hearing loss is not inevitable.
Dr. Wen Chen of the NIA Division of Neuro science hopes that these findings will “spark future research to help us better understand the factors that favor preservation of hearing function, and ... [will lead to the] development of strategies to prevent hearing loss and the associated functional declines in older adults.”
According to the studies, if the Baby Boomer generation lost the hearing at the same rate as their parents, we would have nearly 65.5 million people who have a hearing impairment by 2030. However, the study points out that by 2030, we will actually see 50.9 million people with hearing impairment. Although the number is decreasing, there will still be a large number of people with hearing loss in America.
It is important to increase awareness about hearing loss issues and how they affect the individual because it will help prevent others from being affected. There are a number of simple ways we can protect and preserve our hearing: always listen to your media players on low volumes, wear earplugs when operating loud machinery or when attending loud events such as concerts, listen to music for less than an hour a day, quit smoking, eat foods with anti-oxidants, and have your hearing checked by a hearing care professional.
If you suspect you are showing signs of hearing loss, contact your health care professional for a hearing test. Getting hearing aids is a safe way to prevent hearing loss from further damaging your health.