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Age stigma harms hearing

10th March 2006

Elderly people who believe in stereotypes associated with the older generations are more likely to develop hearing problems, according to new research.

A study by Yale University found that people between the ages of 70 and 96 who hold the belief that the elderly are senile and frail demonstrate a more rapid decline in their hearing than those with a more positive outlook.

The report's lead author, Becca Levy, writes in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences that sensory perception may be affected by personally held prejudices.

Ms Levy also states that those with negative images of the elderly may develop "self-fulfilling prophecies", such as refusing to visit the doctor once hearing begins to deteriorate.

Stress was also put forward as another possible factor in the findings.

"In other studies, we have found that negative age stereotypes can generate stress," Ms Levy said.

"It has also been found that certain aspects of stress can affect hearing."

The report adds that elderly people in cultures that attach less negativity to the ageing process, such as the inhabitants of Easter Island, were found to suffer far less hearing loss than those in Western societies, although noise pollution may have a large factor in the findings.