Millions of healthcare dollars are spent every year on treatment for dementia and seniors’ serious falls. With the recent evidence of the relationship between untreated hearing loss and these two major healthcare expenses, better government assistance for the purchase of hearing aids may reduce overall spending.
According to Statistics Canada, over one-third of seniors hospitalized for falls are then admitted to long-term care. Falls also cause 85 per cent of seniors’ injury-related hospitalizations. With fractures and head injuries being the major injuries resulting from falls, healthcare costs can quickly add up to thousands of dollars per person when considering hospitalizations and later long-term care.
The economic burden of dementia on healthcare systems grows every year. In 2020, there were 597,000 people in Canada living with dementia. It’s estimated that, by 2030, there will be nearly double that number – 955,900 people living with dementia. The cost of dementia to healthcare and the economy in Canada each year is over $10 billion.
In 2017, hearing loss was added to the international list of major modifiable risk factors for dementia. Research at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Medicine demonstrated with just mild hearing loss the risk of developing dementia doubled, and with severe hearing loss there is a five times greater risk of developing dementia. Other Johns Hopkins School of Medicine research developed with the American National Institute on Aging demonstrated a three times greater risk of falling with mild hearing loss and an additional 1.4 times increase of fall risk for every 10 decibels of hearing loss after that.
Dr. William Haseltine, chair and president of the global health think tank Access Health International, wrote, “Addressing hearing loss can be cost-effective and cost-saving to prevent dementia and improve patient outcomes. The task of processing the sounds we hear helps our brain stay active. When you lose some or all of your hearing, the part of your brain that performs this task can atrophy, causing cognitive decline.”
The Ontario Ministry of Health supports the purchase of hearing aids through the Assistive Devices Program (ADP). The program provides $500 per hearing aid for those who qualify. This program is not income based and a prescription from a doctor is required to access the supporting funds.
“The level of ADP funding for hearing aids hasn’t changed in decades,” explained John Tiede, co-CEO with his wife Kathleen of Hear Well Be Well Hearing Clinics. Tiede is also a Hearing Instrument Specialist. “With the increase of dementia and serious fall risk being so closely associated with untreated hearing loss, it’s interesting the Ontario government hasn’t made the connection and started taking action. No matter where you purchase hearing aids, more support from ADP would make a big difference, especially for vulnerable populations.”
The advanced technology now available has increased the effectiveness of hearing aids. It has also increased the cost well beyond what ADP provides so those in need, especially those with severe hearing loss, are often unable to purchase them.
“The more severe the hearing loss, the more technology is required to make a true difference,” Tiede added. “As with any electronics, the more advanced the technology is the higher the cost. So those most in need – those with severe hearing loss and therefore at the most increased risk of developing dementia or having a serious fall – are often the ones for whom hearing aids are out of reach.”
We’ve released a petition asking the provincial government to increase the ADP grant for hearing aids in light of the research tying untreated hearing loss to two of the expensive pulls on the healthcare budget.
The petition is available to sign at any of the Hear Well Be Well offices and also online at https://hearwellbewell.ca/petition/.
Hearing aids can range in price from approximately $800 to $5,000 each, depending on the design and level of technology. Currently it is estimated only 20 per cent of those Canadians with hearing loss have hearing aids.
Hearing loss has many causes beyond just age. It can be caused by loud noise damage, illness and even medications. There are approximately 200 over the counter and prescription medications approved in Ontario considered ototoxic, meaning they may cause inner ear damage.
“Getting a hearing test is the first step,” Tiede said. “It’s painless and, at Hear Well Be Well, it’s free. Knowing where you are with your hearing health is the first step.”