As we age, a decline in our health condition comes as a natural consequence of our bodies living longer. But some conditions seem to go hand in hand. And, with hearing loss, it’s no different. The risk of psychological and medical conditions such as dementia and depression heighten as a result of untreated hearing loss in older populations. This fact is especially concerning given the high rate of hearing loss that goes untreated.
To investigate this issue further, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led a 10-year longitudinal study in conjunction with AARP, University of California San Francisco and OptumLabs. Two groups were studied: individuals with untreated hearing loss, and those without hearing loss. Over a two-year period, individuals with untreated hearing loss incurred 26 percent more in health care costs compared to those without hearing loss, a gap that expanded to 46 percent by 10 years.
Growing Aging Population
This statistic is concerning given expectations for the aging population to grow to nearly 76 million in the United States by 2060. Two-thirds of adults 70 years and older have significant hearing loss, many of whom go untreated.
To investigate further, researchers data mined anonymized healthcare patient data from OptumLabs Data Warehouse to identify what specific characteristics stood out between patients with untreated hearing loss and patients who did not experience hearing loss.
They found that in a 10 year period, patients with untreated hearing loss experienced 50 percent more hospital stays, a 44 percent higher rate of hospital readmission within one month, were 17% more likely of revisiting the emergency department, and had 52 more outpatient visits on a whole than those without hearing loss. Individuals with treated hearing loss were not included in the study.
Links Between Medical Costs And Hearing Loss
Interestingly enough, only $600 of the total $22,434 of extra costs for medical care were spent solely on hearing loss related services. While the study did not determine exactly why costs are so much higher for those with untreated hearing loss, researchers offered some ideas that presented avenues for further investigation.
One idea follows the logical assumption regarding what kind of psychological fallout occurs as a result of untreated hearing loss. Higher incidences of depression and dementia occur within this population. Medical consequences of higher rates of depression, dementia, and similar conditions result in the form of more emergency room visits, hospital readmittance, and medical conditions related to falls.
Even though intuition would tell us that the high incidence of dementia, depression, hospital visits, and falls are due to untreated hearing loss, not enough scientific studies have been performed to establish this link. Another theory behind higher medical costs is the degraded communication ability between patient and provider. Those who have a difficult time hearing may misinterpret information provided to them by medical professionals.
However, recent changes in federal law have made the sale of over the counter assistive listening devices such as hearing aids permissible. This and increasing supply of assistive listening devices in doctors offices will help people with hearing loss communicate better and improve their quality of life.