Nearly one in five Americans age 12 and older experience hearing loss severe enough to interfere with day-to-day communication.
The new research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys, or NHNES, which has collected health information from thousands of Americans since 1971. The researchers looked specifically at people age 12 and older -- men and women of all races -- whose hearing had been tested during NHANES exams.
"Hearing loss is inevitable in many ways, and a lot of people view it as inconsequential, which is where there is a big mistake," said Dr. Frank Lin, assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "Hearing loss has a great impact on cognitive abilities and can progressively lead to social isolation and loneliness," he told ABCNews.com.
"When people can't communicate effectively, the brain actually has to reallocate resources to help with hearing, and that may affect dementia and other cognitive impairment," said Lin.
And with an older population that's living longer, hearing loss could become a serious impediment to social intercourse.