Straining to catch the gist of conversations is frustrating enough, but a new study shows that seniors with hearing loss are also at increased risk for hospitalization, illness, injury and depression.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 1,100 American men and women aged 70 and older with hearing loss, and found that over a four-year period they were 32 percent more likely to have been admitted to the hospital than more than 500 adults with normal hearing.
Hearing-impaired seniors were also 36 percent more likely to have prolonged stretches (more than 10 days) of illness or injury and 57 percent more likely to have extended episodes (more than 10 days) of stress, depression or bad mood, according to the study, published online June 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Hearing loss may have a profoundly detrimental effect on older people's physical and mental well-being, and even health care resources," said study senior investigator Dr. Frank Lin, an otologist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"Our results underscore why hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, but an important issue for public health," Lin said in a Hopkins news release.
Hearing deficits can lead to social isolation, which in turn contribute to physical and mental declines, Lin said.
Hearing loss affects as many as 27 million Americans over age 50, including two-thirds of men and women aged 70 years and older, according to Lin.
The study doesn't prove that being hard of hearing directly leads to other health problems, but it does show an association between the two. And health policymakers need to consider the broader health impact of hearing loss when making decisions for older people, study lead investigator Dr. Dane Genther, a resident in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, said in the news release.
Genther's recommendations: expanded Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for hearing-related health care services, wider installation of hearing loops in various facilities, and more accessible and affordable approaches for treating hearing loss.