Toll-Free: 1 (888) 457-3453 Facebook Icon Link

Increased use of hospitals when hearing loss left untreated

Posted on May 6, 2024
a hospital visitor's hand holds a patient's hand in bed of a hospital ward. In the blurred background a young nurse is chatting to the ward sister about the patient's care.

Evidence continues to grow that leaving hearing loss untreated contributes to so many other health and wellness issues. Studies conducted worldwide are finding remarkable increases in the use of the healthcare system by people with untreated hearing loss.

Dementia, falls, depression and more connected to hearing loss

With all the health and wellness areas affected by untreated hearing loss, it’s not much of a surprise that hearing loss would increase the use of healthcare, particularly use of hospitals and their emergency rooms.

Extensive research into the connection between hearing loss and dementia has shown up to 5 times increased risk of developing dementia for those who have left their hearing loss untreated. Researchers have discovered physical changes to the brain cells of people with untreated hearing loss.

There’s also up to 10 times greater risk of a serious fall when hearing loss is ignored. A serious fall that puts you in hospital can have dire consequences. Statistics Canada shows that 1/3 of older adults who are admitted to hospital for a serious fall go to long term care rather than back to their homes.

Hospitalizations and emergency room visits

Researchers in the US followed nearly 5,000 people for 10 years, documenting their health and use of the healthcare system. In this study[1], it was found people with untreated hearing loss had 46% higher healthcare costs than their no-hearing-loss counterparts. Additionally, they had more inpatient stays at hospital and a greater risk of readmittance within 30 days. 

Still being researched is the reason for this sizable disparity in use of healthcare. It has been suggested the above-mentioned health and wellness issues contribute to the higher use of the healthcare system. But that’s not all that’s going on.

What’s going on?

Hearing difficulties not only cause problems in household conversations, they also contribute to challenges communicating with physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other healthcare providers. When the person with hearing loss doesn’t understand a question – and guesses at what was asked – the answers could be incorrect or vague and cause incomplete or incorrect treatment. As well, when the person can’t clearly hear the healthcare provider’s instructions, conflict and errors can happen.

In a study[2] published in 2018, researchers found people with impaired hearing had 30% greater odds to be readmitted to hospital within 30 days.

Hearing aids seem to help

Another study[3] from 2018, showed regular use of hearing aids reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations. The regular use of hearing aids also reduced the costs to the healthcare system.

Using hearing aids to reduce the risks of the additional health and wellness issues logically would reduce the use of the healthcare system. Hearing aids improving the understanding of instructions from healthcare providers would also logically improve outcomes. But logic isn’t evidence so we’ll have to wait to see what the researchers discover.

What’s next? Know your risks.:

The risks information can be overwhelming so take a little bit at a time before you decide if getting a hearing test is right for you. With all the related risks of untreated hearing loss, it may not make sense to keep thinking hearing aids make you look old or just aren’t right for you. Remember: the behaviors associated with hearing loss are much more noticeable than hearing aids.

When you’re ready, you can get a FREE hearing test at Hear Well Be Well.

[1] Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years. Nicholas S. Reed, AuD; Aylin Altan, PhD; Jennifer A. Deal, PhD; Charlotte Yeh, MD; Alexander D. Kravetz, PharmD; Margaret Wallhagen, RN, PhD; Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019;145(1):27-34. Published online November 8, 2018.

[2] Hospital Readmission Risk for Patients with Self-Reported Hearing Loss and Communication Trouble. Ji Eun Chang PhD, Barbara Weinstein PhD, Joshua Chodosh MD, MSHS, Jan Blustein MD, PhD. Published October 2018, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

[3] Mahmoudi E, Zazove P, Meade M, McKee MM. Association Between Hearing Aid Use and Health Care Use and Cost Among Older Adults With Hearing Loss. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;144(6):498–505. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2018.0273