Untreated hearing loss can have wide-ranging negative effects on a person’s quality of life, from social isolation to a faster rate of cognitive decline. A new study out of Johns Hopkins University highlights yet another reason why it is vital to treat hearing loss with hearing aids. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led a study which revealed that older adults with untreated hearing loss accrue significantly higher health care costs than those who don’t have hearing problems. Health care expenses for those with untreated hearing loss were found to be a staggering 46 percent higher, adding up to $22,434 per person per decade.
This issue has been examined before, but this recent study is one of the largest to be undertaken, looking at many participants over the course of 10 years. The project was a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins University, AARP, University of California San Francisco and Optum Labs.
The study did not include patients who used hearing aids, so more research needs to be done to determine how much hearing aids can help in mitigating the increased health risks associated with hearing loss.
The data was published Nov. 8 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and adds to an increasing body of research which reveals the consequences of untreated hearing loss, including a greater risk of dementia and depression.
How common is hearing loss?
An estimated 38 million Americans are currently living with hearing loss, and current aging population trends indicate that that number could double by 2060. Roughly one in three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 currently suffers from hearing issues, and two-thirds of adults age 70 years and older have a moderate-to-severe hearing loss.
Nicholas S. Reed, AuD, an instructor of audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says it is not clear exactly how untreated hearing loss results in increased health care needs, but the study is a step towards greater understanding of these interrelated issues.
Details about the study
For the purpose of the study, Reed and his colleagues collected information from the OptumLabs Data Warehouse, an expansive set of data including administrative claims from 1999 to 2016 for people enrolled in large, private U.S. health plans and Medicare Advantage plans. The team identified over 77,000 patients who likely had age-related untreated hearing loss, excluding those who used hearing aids or for whom hearing loss was secondary to a medical condition or a result of chemotherapy.
The researchers then found a patient who was a “match” for each of these patients but who did not have hearing loss. They matched patients based on over 25 factors including demographic characteristics, baseline health conditions and measures of health care utilization. After 2, 5, and 10 years, the researchers looked closely at health care cost and utilization, as well as health outcomes.
Even as early as two years after diagnosis, there was a marked difference between patients with hearing loss and those without. Patients with hearing loss were found to incur almost 26 percent more in total health care costs within two years, a gap that increased to 46 percent by 10 years, totaling $22,434 per individual ($20,403 incurred by the health plan, $2,030 by the individual in out-of-pocket costs).
After 10 years, participants with untreated hearing loss averaged about 50 percent more hospital stays, had a roughly 44 percent higher risk for hospital readmission within 30 days, were 17 percent more likely to have an emergency department visit and had about 52 more outpatient visits compared to those without hearing loss.
Why might untreated hearing loss result in higher healthcare costs?
The study data does not reveal exactly why untreated hearing loss increases health care utilization. Reed and his colleagues have a few theories, though. One of them is hearing loss’ relationship with other serious health issues.
1) Hearing loss is often associated with other serious health complaints. Proven risks of untreated hearing loss include a significantly greater risk of falls, depression, and dementia.
2) Hearing loss interferes with patient-provider communication. Patients with hearing loss have more difficulty understanding and communicating with their doctors, which means less positive health outcomes and possibly return visits to the hospital.
Contact Hearing Health to start treating your hearing loss today
The best way to reduce your chances of developing hearing loss-associated health risks is to start treating your loss as soon as it becomes noticeable. Hearing aids can have an immediate positive impact on your health and happiness, allowing for easier communication, improving safety and even helping to protect your brain. To learn more about hearing aids, or for any other hearing health care needs, schedule your appointment with Hearing Health in Portland today.