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Higher Health Care Costs for People with Hearing Loss

Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your hearing; it has an impact on your whole life. Studies have shown that untreated hearing loss creates a significant income gap, and workers with unaddressed hearing impairment earn less the more severe their hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss has also been linked to an increased likelihood of medical conditions like depression and dementia. People with an untreated hearing disability have nearly double the unemployment rate of persons with unimpaired hearing.

Now, new findings are showing that hearing loss is also linked to significantly higher medical expenses. A study published last year in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery online publication found that middle aged subjects with hearing loss incurred 33% more health care costs than people without hearing loss.

Setting Up the Study

The research, done by a group at Medical University of South Carolina, looked at medical cost data for middle-aged subjects (ages 55 through 64) with private health insurance, tracking their health care costs for a total of 18 months. The team, led by Dr. Annie N. Simpson, felt it would be especially informative to look at health care costs in the mid-50s to mid-60s age bracket, where the diagnosed rates of age-related hearing loss triple over the span of 10 years.

The Medical University researchers looked for two subject groups: people who have diagnoses of hearing loss and a control group comprised of people without hearing loss. Tracking health insurance data for a year and a half following introduction to the study and included over 561,000 participants. With such a large sample, the research found a considerable margin in the average health costs of the two groups. Subjects who did not have hearing loss incurred, on average, $10,629 worth of medical costs. Those with hearing loss averaged out to have $14,165 in medical expenses over the same length of time. The gap is such that for every 3 dollars spent on medical care for a person with unimpaired hearing, 4 dollars are spent on a person with hearing loss.

What Greater Health Costs Mean

Greater healthcare expenses are a sign of the wide-ranging impact hearing loss can have on overall health. Simpson et al. emphasize that the scope of hearing–related health issues may be larger (and manifesting earlier) than is commonly thought.

Hearing loss contributes negatively to a range of physical and mental health issues as well as eroding quality of life in many areas. Some health conditions like heart disease and anemia contribute to a greater likelihood of hearing loss as they can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear. Other health issues arise from hearing loss, such as increased risk of isolation and anxiety arising from the limitations hearing loss places on communication and comprehension. To compensate for a lack of sound information, the brain delegates increased cognitive resources to the task of comprehending sound. This reallocation of cognitive function makes it more likely that people with hearing loss will suffer from falling injuries as the brains ability to negotiate coordination and sound comprehension becomes strained. Cognitive fatigue also is a likely contributor to the increased rate of dementia in people with unaddressed hearing problems.

The work from Medical University is an important step in visualizing the impact hearing loss has on both bodily health and our health care systems. It also leaves room for important further research. One thing the study did not examine was the effect hearing loss treatment had on the overall cost of care. Age of diagnosis and compliance with treatments was also left out of the study parameters.

It has been shown that treatment for hearing loss helps bridge income gaps between those with and without hearing disabilities. Hearing loss treatment, such as hearing aids or surgery, can also greatly increase quality of life for those affected with hearing impairment. It is possible that early detection and treatment of hearing loss could also begin to close the disparity in healthcare expenses. Further research into the role of hearing loss treatment in the larger picture of healthcare are certainly needed.

Greentree Hearing & Audiology

If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, don’t wait for it to take a toll on your lifestyle – set up a hearing exam with Greentree Hearing & Audiology today. Our team of hearing specialists is here to walk you through every step of the path to healthy hearing. Our hearing exams analyze the nuances of the sensitivity of your hearing and our full range of hearing solutions can help you hear your best.