Variations on a Theme: Mild Hearing Loss and Word Recognition Scores

Variations on a Theme: Mild Hearing Loss and Word Recognition Scores

December 21, 2015 In the News

Timmer et al (2015) report that the prevalence rate of mild hearing impairment varies greatly with the definition. They report that the weak correlations between audiologic assessments and patient-based self-reported difficulties indicate further assessment of individuals with mild hearing impairment is warranted.  In their Table 2 (page 788) they offer a “summary of descriptive classifications of mild hearing impairment” which includes similar, although different, common definitions of mild hearing loss.

Organization/Author  Description/Category dB HL Frequencies in Hz
ASHA/Clark Slight 16-25 500, 1000, 2000
ASHA/Clark Mild 26-40 500, 1000, 2000
World Health Org (WHO) 1991 Slight 25-40 500, 1000, 2000
British Soc Audiology Mild 20-40 500, 1000, 2000, 4000
EU Working Group Genetics Mild 21-39 500, 1000, 2000, 4000
New Zealand Deafness Mild 26-40 500, 1000, 2000, 4000
WHO 1997 Slight 25-40 500, 1000, 2000, 4000
Australian Hearing (NAL) Mild 21-45 500, 1000, 2000
NIDCD functional handicap ~ 40 dB 500, 1000, 2000, 3000

Timmer et al detail multiple previous studies that indicate a weak correlation between audiometric pure-tone averages and self-reported hearing difficulties. Indeed, they report that Weinstein and Ventry (1983) concluded “audiometric thresholds account for less than 50 percent of the variance in reported hearing handicap.” Smoorenburg (1992) reported “no more than 53 percent of variance in speech understanding could be accounted for by pure-tone thresholds.” Additionally, Timmer et al note that Duquesnoy (1983) reported that even for people with similar word recognition scores in quiet, their speech in noise scores showed large variability and they concluded “one could not be predicted from the other.” Timmer and colleagues report Dubno (1984), too, concluded speech understanding was not predictable based on audiometric pure-tone averages.

Timmer et al conclude that “the research literature concerning mild hearing impairment shows large individual variability in many aspects….” They state that even if we had a universal definition of mild hearing impairment (we don’t!), it would not indicate “the true impact of mild hearing impairment on an individual.” The authors report the best indicators of mild hearing impairment “are the daily experiences of the individuals, which also vary widely.”

For More Information, References and Recommendations

Duquesnoy AJ. (1983) The intelligibility of sentences in quiet and noise in aged listeners. J Acoust Soc Am 74:1136–1144.

Smoorenburg GF. (1992) Speech reception in quiet and in noisy conditions by individuals with noise-induced hearing loss in relation to their tone audiogram. J Acoust Soc Am 91(1).

Timmer BHB, Hickson L, Launer S. (2015) Adults with mild hearing impairment—are we meeting the challenge? Intl J Audiol 54:786–795.

Weinstein BE, Ventry IM. (1983) Audiometric correlates of the hearing handicap inventory for the elderly. J Speech Hear Disord 48:379–384.     

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