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Posted on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Costs of Untreated Hearing Loss

Senior smelling flower. Untreated hearing loss separates people from the sounds they love.

For years hearing loss has been relegated as a naturally degenerative condition of a select few, but hearing loss is growing at a fast pace among children, adolescents, middle-aged, and older Americans due to an aging population, earbuds, large work equipment, and new medications proven toxic to the ears. This increase in hearing loss has not corresponded with an increase in awareness or action. Many people decide not to treat their hearing loss, citing the costs of new hearing aids. It turns out that hearing loss left untreated has far-reaching health, emotional, and financial costs for individuals and society.

A study by the National Council on Aging found that an estimated 19 million adults from age 45 and up have hearing loss but fewer than half use hearing aids. Their study was aimed at discovering the consequences of untreated hearing loss for older adults. It turns out the costs of untreated hearing loss was far greater financially, emotionally, and physically for individuals, their families, communities, and society than anticipated.

Untreated Hearing Loss Costs to Health

“Anything we can do to preserve our hearing-whether it's avoiding damage in the first place by limiting exposure to loud sounds, or by getting a hearing aid to boost input levels-will potentially preserve the health and function of the brain regions involved in processing sounds and speech.” Dr. Jonathan Peelle

Recent studies have found a shocking connection between hearing loss and serious health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. It is thought that the strain of having to decode words over the years, the lack of stimulation delivered through the ears to the brain, or the social isolation that often occurs with hearing loss is responsible for this connection. It’s not just mental functions that are diminished with untreated hearing loss, people with untreated hearing loss have been shown to be less healthy than those that seek treatment.

Untreated Hearing Loss Economic Costs
The Cost of Hearing LossThe Cost of Hearing Loss
“Hearing loss was shown to negatively impact household income on-average up to $12,000 per year depending on the degree of hearing loss.” Better Hearing Institute

26 million people live with untreated hearing loss. A majority of those people cite the high cost of hearing aids as the reason for refusing treatment, but individuals and society still pay the cost in lost income, higher health care costs, and lost taxes. Untreated hearing loss costs the average person 12,000 a year, and the collective monitory cost of untreated hearing loss is thought to exceed 100 billion dollars a year. It is believed lower salary is due to more mistakes that come about due to an inability to engage in every day communication.

Untreated Hearing Loss Emotional Costs
“Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people.” Helen Keller

A comparison of older adults with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids and those who did use hearing aids showed a marked difference in levels of happiness and general satisfaction with life. Those who did not use hearing aids were more likely to report sadness and depression, worry and anxiety, paranoia, less social activity, emotional turmoil and insecurity. These facts would seem enough to compel most people to confront their hearing loss, but according to a recent article on baby boomers with hearing loss, "The majority of boomers with hearing loss fail to seek medical attention despite the fact that half of them admitted that their hearing problem interfered with their family life."

The emotional costs to children with untreated hearing loss can be just as dramatic, but unlike with some adults childhood hearing loss is not always recognized by the child or the adults in their lives. This is perhaps because childhood hearing loss often mimics certain childhood behaviors, like not paying attention. The costs of hearing loss in this case are not only emotion, but the added impact on childhood learning and communication. As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association points out, "Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed hearing loss can result in problems as the child may know something is not quite right, but is not getting the proper professional attention."

Treatment Costs for Hearing Loss
“When someone in the family has a hearing loss, the entire family has a hearing problem." Mark Ross, PhD

There is a myth around hearing loss that suggests treating hearing loss is not necessary to live a fully engaged life. This isn’t true. People who improve their hearing with hearing aids more often reported better relationships with their families, better feelings about themselves, improved mental health, and greater independence and security. Hearing loss costs on health, income, and emotions is far greater than the initial outlay for hearing aids. And the cost of treating hearing loss can be offset through many different hearing aid funding programs and soon there may be a tax credit for hearing aids. There are many important reasons for correcting hearing loss, but none are more important than the most devastating costs of untreated hearing loss--isolation and unhappiness. Help yourself or someone you love confront hearing loss today. You could just save a life.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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