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Higher Medical Costs For Individuals With Untreated Hearing Loss

cost of untreated hearing loss

As we age, a decline in our health condition comes as a natural consequence of our bodies living longer. But some conditions seem to go hand in hand. And, with hearing loss, it’s no different. The risk of psychological and medical conditions such as dementia and depression heighten as a result of untreated hearing loss in older populations. This fact is especially concerning given the high rate of hearing loss that goes untreated.
To investigate this issue further, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led a 10-year longitudinal study in conjunction with AARP, University of California San Francisco and OptumLabs. Two groups were studied: individuals with untreated hearing loss, and those without hearing loss. Over a two-year period, individuals with untreated hearing loss incurred 26 percent more in health care costs compared to those without hearing loss, a gap that expanded to 46 percent by 10 years.
Growing Aging Population
This statistic is concerning given expectations for the aging population to grow to nearly 76 million in the United States by 2060. Two-thirds of adults 70 years and older have significant hearing loss, many of whom go untreated.
To investigate further, researchers data mined anonymized healthcare patient data from OptumLabs Data Warehouse to identify what specific characteristics stood out between patients with untreated hearing loss and patients who did not experience hearing loss.
They found that in a 10 year period, patients with untreated hearing loss experienced 50 percent more hospital stays, a 44 percent higher rate of hospital readmission within one month, were 17% more likely of revisiting the emergency department, and had 52 more outpatient visits on a whole than those without hearing loss. Individuals with treated hearing loss were not included in the study.
Links Between Medical Costs And Hearing Loss
Interestingly enough, only $600 of the total $22,434 of extra costs for medical care were spent solely on hearing loss related services. While the study did not determine exactly why costs are so much higher for those with untreated hearing loss, researchers offered some ideas that presented avenues for further investigation.
One idea follows the logical assumption regarding what kind of psychological fallout occurs as a result of untreated hearing loss. Higher incidences of depression and dementia occur within this population. Medical consequences of higher rates of depression, dementia, and similar conditions result in the form of more emergency room visits, hospital readmittance, and medical conditions related to falls.
Even though intuition would tell us that the high incidence of dementia, depression, hospital visits, and falls are due to untreated hearing loss, not enough scientific studies have been performed to establish this link. Another theory behind higher medical costs is the degraded communication ability between patient and provider. Those who have a difficult time hearing may misinterpret information provided to them by medical professionals.
However, recent changes in federal law have made the sale of over the counter assistive listening devices such as hearing aids permissible. This and increasing supply of assistive listening devices in doctors offices will help people with hearing loss communicate better and improve their quality of life.

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Learning From Couples With Hearing Loss

Couples dealing with sensory loss

Coping with sensory loss isn’t easy. Those who can talk to a peer for support have more success dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as other fallout from their loss. Peers dealing with the same issues can provide help, advice, and share common experiences.
While mechanisms such as talk therapy, support groups, and others have been around for some time, little research has been dedicated to discovering the long term benefits of peer support from the peer’s point of view.
Two studies were conducted that canvased the feedback of ordinary people and their partners or other support peers living with sensory loss. They were asked, “What advice would you give to other couples who are living with sensory loss?”
In the first study, people between ages 50 and 85, revealed some keen advice for people who find themselves in similar situations. They talked about how vital seeking support from peer organizations is, as well as gaining support from partners and healthcare professionals. Patient-led groups were at the top of the list for the kind of support participants suggested people seek. They highlighted key traits partners should have to support their loved ones adequately: honesty, patience, understanding, unity, acceptance, respect, compassion, positivity, and respect for independence.
The second study consisted of participants in a younger age category, but the results were similar. They focused on the importance of being compassionate, mutually supportive, patience, and understanding. Here are some quotes from the study:
“Talk to each about the difficulties; not only big issues but also the little frustrations in everyday life… Comfort and support each other when you face frustrations related to the sensory loss.”
– hard-of-hearing partner
“If you can, try to laugh about any mishaps – my partner laughs and lovingly calls me ‘silly lady’ whenever I keep bumping into things (that I don’t see) or misunderstand stuff he said. That takes the edge off and lets me laugh as well. Be intimate.”
– deafblind partner
Feeling supported was linked to showing understanding, patience, and acceptance. Thus, similar to the first study, these were also recommended by the participants of the second study:
“Find out what works best for you. Not everyone adapts the same. Be patient and tolerant of the partner’s frustration when simple ideas become obstacles because of misunderstandings.”
– deafblind partner
Professional Support
While participants highly encouraged the support of peers, they did not forget to emphasize the qualities of professional help as well. Many participants mentioned the benefits of counseling, online groups, healthcare professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and technical experts. In this way, peers and professionals can work together to provide a comprehensive network of support for those who are adjusting to or maintaining a full life living with hearing loss.
If you or a loved one is dealing with hearing loss, there are plenty of support waiting for you. Whether you need professional help or the friendship of a peer, reach out to one of our professionals today. We can help you find the support you need.