Many view hearing loss as an inconsequential condition that can be ignored without serious implication. Why else would Medicare deny benefits for hearing loss evaluation and rehabilitation to those over 65? Why would people delay seeking hearing help for years? Scientific evidence no long supports this laissez-faire attitude.
In 1999 Dr. Raymond Hurley observed the auditory function of veterans with bilaterally-equal hearing loss who were fit with only one hearing aid showed significant degradation on the unaided ear but not on the aided ear.
In 2011 Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins observed that of the 639 participants between the ages of 36-90 years and participating in The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, those with mild hearing losses were 1.89 times more likely to develop dementia than their similarly matched counter parts with normal hearing. Those with moderate hearing loss were three times more likely to develop dementia. Those with severe hearing losses were five times more likely to develop this memory-robbing disease even after cardiovascular and diabetic issues were factored out.
This year Dr. Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins reported that their survey of health date from 1,140 men and women aged 70 and older showed those with hearing loss were 32% more likely to have been admitted to a hospital than 529 older men and women with normal hearing. Further, older adults with hearing loss were 36% more likely to have prolonged stretches of illness or injure (lasting more than 10 days), and 57% more likely to have deep episodes of stress, or depression.
Dr. Lin and his team are now attempting to determine if treating hearing loss with counseling and hearing aids can reduce this risk of cognitive and physical decline and dementia.
There are several take home messages here:
1. Now that we know the risk factors associated with hearing loss it is time for individuals so afflicted to stop ignoring this condition. In 2012, Drs. Chien and Lin reported only 15% of the 26.7 million people over age 50 with hearing loss use hearing aids.
2. Given our current state of knowledge, you might ask “Isn’t it time for Medicare to offer a hearing health care benefit to all eligible enrollees?” Dr. Lin and his colleagues believe so and we whole heartedly agree.
3. We need a better clearing house for unbiased information on hearing rehabilitation options. Towards this end we offer a no-cost consumer education workshop at Good Samaritan Hospital on every second Thursday of the month form 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. The public is invited. There are no reservations or personal information solicited. The panel members are long-time hearing aid users who devote numerous hours to testing hearing aids and related technology.