Untreated Hearing Loss May Raise Risk of Other Health Issues

Report finds association with higher rates of dementia, depression and hospitalization

Uncorrected hearing loss may raise the risk of mental and physical health problems and leads to higher hospitalization rates and health care costs, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The report, based on an analysis of health data from more than 150,000 people 50 and older reporting age-related hearing loss with no hearing aid use, is a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins University, AARP Services Inc., Optum Labs and University of California, San Francisco.

The report found that untreated hearing loss is associated with a greater risk of depression, dementia, heart attack and falls. The data showed that over 10 years, untreated hearing loss was associated with a 52 percent greater risk of dementia, a 41 percent higher risk of depression and an almost 30 percent greater risk for falls when compared with those who had no hearing loss.

Statistics Canada reports that there are an estimated 8.2 million Canadians aged 40 to 79 with at least mild hearing loss in the high frequency range, with men more likely than women to have hearing loss – 63% vs. 46%. People tend to wait on average of seven years from the time they start noticing hearing loss to the time they seek help.

“To me the message from this research is: Get your hearing tested,” says Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for AARP Services Inc. “It’s the first study of its kind that has come out to show the association of uncorrected hearing loss with higher health care costs, more hospitalization, longer hospital stays and more readmission.”

“Those numbers are a big deal,” says Nicholas Reed, assistant professor of audiology at Johns Hopkins University and the lead author of the report. He surmises that, in addition to the previously noted health risks, the higher readmission rate and longer hospital stays are closely related to patient-provider communication issues. A communication gap can lead to the patient having trouble following the treatment plan, for instance.

“We used to treat hearing like it was sort of this benign thing, like, everybody gets hearing loss when they get older, no big deal,” Reed says. “But I think this research is just more evidence that hearing is way more important than we thought it was.” Hearing Well Matters!

Reed, Nicholas S., Yeh, Charlotte et al, JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery. 2019; 145(1). p27-34