Hearing loss is a pretty common condition as people age. Long term exposure to loud noises can damage the inner workings of the ear and decrease one’s ability to hear specific frequencies of sounds. Luckily, under the guidance of a hearing healthcare professional, many older adults can undergo a variety of treatments to manage their hearing loss so they can continue living the life they love.
Unfortunately, too many people choose to avoid getting treatment for their hearing loss. The reasons for avoiding hearing healthcare are numerous – from denial of the issue to a lack of accessibility of medical care – but the end result is the same: hearing loss that goes untreated, coupled with substantial negative long-term health effects.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a new study from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine shows that older adults with untreated hearing loss actually rack up higher overall health care costs compared to their peers without hearing loss. It turns out that denial of hearing loss can cost someone a whole lot more than just their hearing – it could cost tens of thousands of dollars in healthcare costs every decade.
The researchers in this recent study followed a number of individuals for a full ten years to investigate the effects of untreated hearing loss on one’s overall health and their medical expenses. The results are staggering.
To conduct this study, the researchers organized patients into two groups: those with untreated hearing loss and those with normal hearing. In just two years after those with untreated hearing loss received their initial diagnosis, they managed to generate about 26% more healthcare costs than their normal-hearing peers. This gap widened to approximately 46% within a single decade as those with hearing loss spent an average of $22,434 over ten years ($20,403 paid for by health insurance and $2,030 paid for by the individual).
What is all of this money spent on? Although conventional wisdom might think that avoiding treatment for hearing loss should keep costs low – as you’re not making routine visits to a hearing healthcare professional or paying for hearing aids – it seems as though untreated hearing loss costs more than actually treating it!
This is all because untreated hearing loss increases one’s risk for a whole host of different medical maladies, from dementia and cognitive decline, to falls, depression, and an overall lower quality of life. A growing body of research has pointed to this for years, but still, people choose to leave their hearing loss untreated.
The Future Of Hearing Loss Treatment
Hearing loss is much more common than people might think. With nearly 37.5 million Americans (15%) reporting some form of hearing loss, healthcare bills like those found in the study can have a profound impact on the American healthcare system and economy.
At first, it might seem that high healthcare costs are to blame. But, if we consider that only $600 of the $22,434 of health costs per person with untreated hearing loss was actually spent on hearing-related services, it becomes clear that seeking out treatment early can alleviate much of this financial burden.
Thus, what we need is to find ways to reduce the stigma around hearing loss and we need to find ways to eliminate barriers to hearing healthcare for low-income patients and the uninsured. The research team hopes that their results will act as a call to action for the healthcare system to find better ways to serve patients who might otherwise let their hearing loss go untreated.