Untreated hearing loss can be costly for seniors

Untreated hearing loss can be costly for seniors

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(HealthDay News) -- Having hearing loss and not knowing it might translate into higher medical bills and other health problems for many seniors, two new studies suggest.

In one study, researchers analyzed data from more than 77,000 U.S. patients with untreated age-related hearing loss, and compared them to people without hearing loss.

Among the patients with hearing loss, average total health care costs were 46 percent 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.

The study also found that over 10 years, patients with untreated hearing loss had 50 percent more hospital stays and a 44 percent higher risk for hospital readmission within 30 days. They were also 17 percent 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 utilization 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 health care services, but a second study shows that these patients are more likely to have other serious health issues.

Over 10 years, patients with untreated hearing loss had a 50 percent greater risk of dementia, a 40 percent greater risk of depression, and an almost 30 percent 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 Nov. 8 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.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about hearing loss.

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