Untreated hearing loss can be costly for seniors

Untreated hearing loss can be expensive for the elderly.
Untreated hearing loss can be expensive for the elderly.

Leaving your hearing loss untreated can cost you more in the long run, according to two recent studies. In one study, researchers analysed data from more than 77 000 US patients with untreated age-related hearing loss, and compared them to people without hearing loss.

Among the patients with hearing loss, average total healthcare costs were 46% higher over 10 years. That amounted to more than $22 000 per person, with about $20 000 of that amount paid by a health plan and $2 000 in out-of-pocket costs for each patient.

Only about $600 of that $22 000 was due solely to hearing loss-related care, the findings showed.

Increased hospital stays

The study also found that over 10 years, patients with untreated hearing loss had 50% more hospital stays and a 44% higher risk for hospital readmission within 30 days. They were also 17% more likely to have an emergency department visit, and had 52 more outpatient visits compared to those without hearing loss.

"Knowing that untreated hearing loss dramatically drives up health care utilisation and costs will hopefully be a call to action among health systems and insurers to find ways to better serve these patients," said study leader Nicholas Reed, who's with Johns Hopkins' Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health.

The study by Reed and his colleagues didn't reveal why untreated hearing loss is associated with greater use of healthcare services, but a second study shows that these patients are more likely to have other serious health issues.

Dementia and depression

Over 10 years, patients with untreated hearing loss had a 50% greater risk of dementia, a 40% greater risk of depression, and an almost 30% higher risk for falls than those without hearing loss, the second study found.

"We don't yet know if treating hearing loss could help prevent these problems," said study author Jennifer Deal, an assistant scientist in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's department of epidemiology.

"But it's important for us to figure out, because over two-thirds of adults age 70 years and older have clinically significant hearing loss that may impact everyday quality of life," she added in a Hopkins news release.

"We need to better understand these relationships to determine if treatment for hearing loss could potentially reduce risk and help maintain health in older adults," Deal added.

However, the studies did not prove that hearing loss causes other health problems.

The studies were published on 8 November 2018 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Hearing loss affects 38 million Americans, and that number is expected to double by 2060. Hearing loss affects one-third of Americans aged 65 to 74, and two-thirds of those 70 and older have clinically significant hearing loss, according to background information in the news release.

Image credit: iStock 

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