There are a multitude of reasons to seek treatment for hearing loss, including increased connection and improved relationships with loved ones. And yet, many people choose to live with untreated hearing loss acquired later in life because they think it’s an inevitable part of the aging process. In fact, most people wait about ten years before finally treating their hearing loss. On top of that, experts estimate that only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants actually wears them.
But the cost of untreated hearing loss goes beyond a decrease in physical and emotional health, as a new study confirms that the financial burden of hearing loss can be clearly measured in dollars and cents.
An analysis of claims data over time reveals that older persons with untreated hearing loss over the course of ten years generated on average 46 percent higher total healthcare expenses than those without hearing loss.
About this study
A collaborative project between the AARP, the University of San Francisco, and OptumLabs revealed that people with hearing loss pay 46 percent higher on average in health care costs, compared to people with healthy hearing. While it has long been theorized that the condition of hearing loss raises healthcare costs, this study is one of the most comprehensive to date as it examined a cohort over the course of a decade.
The study did not include people who wore hearing aids, so the findings apply to untreated hearing loss only, not treated hearing loss.
How acquired hearing loss works
Roughly one-third of people over the age of 65 live with hearing loss. It’s simply a truth in life that aging itself plays a role in the decline of our inner ear cells, responsible for collecting noise from the world and turning it into the sound information our brain relies upon to complete the hearing process. In addition, exposure to excessive volumes can also damage these inner ear cells, which don’t repair or replicate. As we lose these inner ear cells, our hearing health declines and we hear less of the world.
The impact of untreated hearing loss on medical intervention
Patients with untreated hearing loss had 52 more outpatient visits at the 10-year point than those without hearing loss, experienced nearly 50 percent more hospital stays, had about a 44 percent higher chance of returning to the hospital within 30 days, and were 17 percent more likely to visit the emergency room.
The emotional health consequences of untreated hearing loss
We have long known that people with hearing loss experience an increase in symptoms of depression, however, this study gives hard evidence that the rate of depression exponentially increases for those with the condition. The researchers found a 40 percent higher risk of depression for those with untreated hearing loss in the course of their study.
This study’s findings also conclude that people with hearing loss have a substantially higher risk of a future dementia diagnosis and that untreated hearing loss dramatically raises the likelihood of an accidental fall.
Why people wait to treat hearing loss
A large part of the work done by hearing health advocates and health professionals entails educating people on the very real benefits of prioritizing hearing health and exploring treatment options. While more than half of people surveyed by the American Language-Speech-Hearing Association in 2020 had recent vision screenings, fewer than 20 percent underwent a hearing test.
Some people think that hearing aids make them look (or feel) old, others aren’t aware that hearing loss has such a successful treatment path, and still others may not even be aware that they’re living with levels of hearing loss that could be remedied by hearing aids.
Choosing a clearer hearing future
Acknowledging hearing loss can be scary and overwhelming, and it often asks us to confront realities that we’d rather ignore. As our ability to hear fails, we tend to find social isolation and changes in our closest relationships lie in wait around the corner.
Our team of hearing health professionals are here to make this process painless and even welcome! We work every day to bring better hearing to people of all ages, demystifying the process and giving you the information you need to navigate the path forward that truly suits you and your lifestyle.