Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

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Age related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is common and also tends to be undertreated in older adults. In fact, only a third of people who could benefit from treatment actually receive it. Untreated hearing loss can take a toll on health and everyday life in significant ways. This includes straining communication, relationships, social life, as well as increasing health risks. Studies show that untreated symptoms can contribute to cognitive decline, falls, and hospital readmission. Fortunately, there are effective ways that hearing loss is treated which can transform health and quality of life. This includes improving care of older adults. 

Older Adults & Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition older adults live with today. The risk of developing hearing loss increase with age and according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:

  • 1 in 3 adults, ages 65-74, have hearing loss 
  • 1 in 2 adults, ages 75 and older, have disabling hearing loss 

Age related hearing loss can be caused by a few factors including the following: 

  • The cumulative toll of consistent loud noise exposure.
  • Existing medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Older adults are also more likely to experience these conditions and extensive research shows that they increase the risk of hearing loss. 
  • Changes to the ear that people may experience over time. This includes bone growths or changes, damage to the eardrum, injury to ossicles bones in the middle ear etc. 

These factors can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear which are a major component of the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. These cells convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals which are sent to the brain. Damaged sensory cells prevent soundwaves from being processed effectively which means the brain receives less auditory information, causing hearing loss. 

Impact of Hearing Loss on Healthcare 

Hearing loss that remains untreated can have multifaceted effects including impacting healthcare. Symptoms reduce a person’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. This makes it challenging to engage in and navigate conversations. Strained communication not only affects relationships but also healthcare. Studies show that people with hearing loss can be significantly more likely to experience hospital readmission. This can impact health as well as increase healthcare costs.

A major study that investigated the impact of hearing loss on healthcare was conducted by researchers at New York University. This study involved researchers collecting and analyzing data from a national survey. This included data on 4,436 people who were 65 and older. These participants were hospitalized at least once in the past 3 years. Researchers found that: 

People who reported experiencing communication challenges with their doctors were 32% more likely to return to the hospital in the next month. 

  • 12% reported that hearing challenges made it difficult to communicate with healthcare providers.

This data reveals that hearing loss contributed to communication breakdowns with healthcare providers. Healthcare settings can already be more challenging to hear in due to background noise and lots of activity. Additionally, healthcare providers may not know how to effectively communicate with patients who have hearing loss. This can lead to miscommunication, not fully hearing a diagnosis, missing parts of a treatment plan, being confused about instructions for medications etc. which can lead to hospital readmission. This underscores the importance of addressing symptoms and treating hearing loss. 

Addressing Hearing Loss Improves Care 

It is important to know that there are effective ways hearing loss is treated which not only improve hearing and communication but also care for older adults. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These are electronic devices that absorb and process speech as well as sound. This provides the ears and brain with significant support, alleviating hearing loss symptoms and maximizing one’s hearing capacity. Hearing aids offer numerous benefits including strengthening communication. This allows people to navigate communication with greater ease. People are better able to fully participate in conversations which increases understanding. This is especially useful in healthcare contexts where detailed and important information is being discussed. 

Treatment supports receiving quality care which is essential for health, wellness, and quality of life. The first step towards treatment is scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule a hearing consultation.