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Untreated hearing loss is associated with higher health costs, more hospitalizations

(Reuters Health) – – Older adults with untreated hearing loss can develop additional health problems that cause more hospitalization and higher health costs than their counterparts without hearing difficulties, two US studies show.

One study followed 4,728 people over a decade, starting when they were 61 years old, on average. Half experience hearing loss that is not treated. Over 10 years, this translates into more than $ 22,434 per person in total health costs and more than 40 percent more likely than hospitalizations and repeat admissions.

"There are two potential causes that connect hearing loss with higher health care spending and utilization," said lead study author Nicholas Reed of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"The first is that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, dementia, depression, and social isolation – all of which can contribute to higher health spending and use," Reed said via email. "The second is that service provider communication can be hampered by untreated hearing loss."

Doctors and patients may not realize that hearing loss contributes to preventable miscommunication regarding treatment plans, said the accompanying editorial author, Dr. Michael McKee from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

The doctor must speak directly to the patient in a quiet room, follow up to see if they understand and can repeat what was said, McKee told Reuters Health. There are also portable hearing aids that can be used in hospitals and doctors' offices to help make it easier for patients to communicate with doctors.

"Patients also need to feel empowered and talk when they don't understand," McKee said via email. "It is their right to know their health information."

More than 38 million adults in the US experience hearing loss, including two-thirds of those over 70 years old, Reed and colleagues noted in their report, published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Hearing loss has been linked to a variety of health problems including cognitive decline, falls, depression, decreased quality of life and an increase in the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

The second study in the same journal used insurance claims data to examine the relationship between hearing loss and additional health problems among 4,728 adults aged 50 and older, half of whom had been diagnosed with hearing loss.

After five years of follow-up, people with hearing loss but no claims for hearing aids were 50 percent more likely than those without hearing loss to have a diagnosis of new dementia and 41 percent more likely to have a diagnosis of a new depression, compared with people without hearing loss. hearing problems, this study found.

The researchers calculated that more than 10 years, 3.2 cases of dementia, 3.6 falls and 6.9 cases of depression per 100 people with one of these diagnoses caused by untreated hearing loss.

"What we don't know yet is whether treating hearing loss can help prevent or delay one of these conditions," said lead study author Jennifer Deal of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Often, people don't get help because they can't afford hearing aids, Deal said via email.

"Hearing aids are very expensive," Deal said. "The average cost per pair in the United States is $ 4,700 and they are not protected by Medicare."

Evidence that treating hearing loss can improve health for older adults might help change this, said David Loughrey of the University of California, San Francisco, and Trinity College Dublin, who wrote an editorial about this study.

"If clinical trials can show that the treatment of hearing loss can help adults maintain their health and delay or prevent dementia this will have significant implications for public health policy," Loughrey said via email. "The cost of treating hearing loss needs to be measured against the cost of treating health conditions such as dementia which is estimated to cost $ 1 trillion in 2018 globally, increasing to $ 2 trillion by 2030."

SOURCE:,, and JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, online November 8, 2018.

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