Hearing loss and older adults' perceptions of access to care.
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We investigated whether hard-of-hearing older adults were more likely to report difficulties and delays in accessing care and decreased satisfaction with healthcare access than those without hearing loss. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (2003-2006 wave, N = 6,524) surveyed respondents regarding hearing, difficulties/delays in accessing care, satisfaction with healthcare access, socio-demographics, chronic conditions, self-rated health, depression, and length of relationship with provider/site. We used multivariate regression to compare access difficulties/delays and satisfaction by respondents' hearing status (hard-of-hearing or not). Hard-of-hearing individuals comprised 18% of the sample. Compared to those not hard-of-hearing, hard-of-hearing individuals were significantly more likely to be older, male and separated/divorced. They had a higher mean number of chronic conditions, including atherosclerotic vascular disease, diabetes and depression. After adjustment for potential confounders, hard-of-hearing individuals were more likely to report difficulties in accessing healthcare (Odds Ratio 1.85; 95% Confidence Interval 1.19-2.88). Satisfaction with healthcare access was similar in both groups. Our findings suggest healthcare access difficulties will be heightened for more of the population because of the increasing prevalence of hearing loss. The prevalence of hearing loss in this data is low and our findings from a telephone survey likely underestimate the magnitude of access difficulties experienced by hard-of-hearing older adults. Further research which incorporates accessible surveys is needed. In the meantime, clinicians should pay particular attention to assessing barriers in healthcare access for hard-of-hearing individuals. Resources should be made available to proactively address these issues for those who are hard-of-hearing and to educate providers about the specific needs of this population.