Studies continue to show negative impact of untreated hearing loss
In November 2018, a two-part report was published in the influential Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, based on an analysis of health data from more than 150,000 people 50 years and older reporting age-related hearing loss and no hearing aid use. Backing up other studies with similar findings, the report noted that over a decade of data on this very large group of older people shows that untreated hearing loss was associated with 46% higher total healthcare costs. According to the report, the reason people with untreated age-related hearing loss might be so costly to care for was that hearing loss was associated with:
52% greater risk of dementia
41% higher risk of depression
30% greater risk for falls
50% more hospital stays
44% higher risk of being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days
Benefits of hearing aid use
Published in the influential Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the analysis showed that not only did hearing aids improve listening ability, but they also significantly improved measures of health-related quality of life. “We are still not certain what the underlying mechanisms are, but there is a clear association between hearing loss and all the psychosocial aspects: social isolation, loneliness, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia,” she said.
Quality of life matters.
As evidence accumulates, hearing healthcare is getting the attention of governments, industry, and the media. In February 2019, the Wall Street Journal published “Hear Better, Think Better,” an article about recent research, like Dr. Dawes’ work, suggesting hearing aid use could slow or even reverse cognitive decline in older people.
Hearing aid use reduces risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018, Medicare and Medicaid spent an estimated $186 billion caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias—67% of the total costs of these programs. Regardless of the exact causal mechanism, if something as simple as fitting people with hearing aids or providing them with assistive technologies early on, when hearing loss first starts to impede communication, could reduce the risk of people to develop dementia by more than half, as the JAMA report suggests, then the savings in Medicare and Medicaid could be in the billions of dollars.