In the United States, there are nearly 29 million people with hearing loss who could benefit from treatment with hearing aids. Unfortunately, only 16% of those individuals actually seek treatment. Untreated hearing loss will have obvious effects, including difficulties in communication and participating in social interaction. Additionally, untreated hearing loss can have negative impacts on overall health and lead to increased health care costs in the long run.
A recent study conducted at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health compared health care costs for older adults with untreated hearing loss and older adults without hearing loss over a period of ten years. The results showed as much as 46% higher health care costs for individuals with untreated hearing loss. The group with untreated hearing loss also had 50% more hospital stays, with about 44% of those at risk for hospital readmission within 30 days. They were also 17% more likely to have an emergency room visit and had on average 52 more outpatient visits than the group without hearing loss. The average cost of healthcare for people with untreated hearing loss was $22,434 higher than those with no hearing loss over a 10-year period, with only about $600 directly related to having hearing loss.
Another study at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship of untreated hearing loss with other health problems. This study found that people with untreated hearing loss also had a 50% greater risk of developing dementia, a 30% greater risk of falls and a 40% greater risk of depression as compared to those with normal hearing.
Researchers did not determine why untreated hearing loss increases health care costs or health care utilization, however, they speculate that difficulties in communication may play a significant role. People who cannot hear their physicians may have difficulty communicating their symptoms, following instructions or understanding recommendations made by the physician, or participating in conversations to develop a treatment plan.
Audiologists work with patients to develop individual treatment plans which address their specific needs. If you or a loved one is living with hearing loss, please don’t let it go untreated. When a loved one needs help, “I didn’t hear you” is not the answer they should get. It is not cost or health effective.
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Patricia Larson Shields, AuD FAAA MA CCC-SP/L is a doctor of audiology with her degree from The School of Audiology of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in February, 2003. She has been in business in Mitchell, SD since September, 1991.