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Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia, Other Health Issues

by Shelley D. Hutchins
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Mature Hispanic doctor or nurse talks with senior patient and his wife about his test results. The man and his wife are sad and he has his hand on his face. They are holding hands. He is connected to iv drip. The nurse or doctor is wearing scrubs and is holding the test results attached to his medcal chart.

The New York Times recently reported on several studies indicating a relationship between untreated hearing loss and other heath issues.

The article also questions why most health insurance companies—including Medicare—do not typically cover hearing aids when studies show that health care costs are much higher when hearing loss goes uncorrected. Related health care risks found in these and other studies include dementia, depression, injuries resulting from balance issues, and cardiovascular diseases.

The two studies showed increased risk for medical comorbidities and higher health care cost data for people with untreated hearing loss. One study demonstrated a 50-percent increased risk in dementia for those with hearing loss and a 40-percent increased risk of depression. The second study reports a 46-percent rise in health care costs over 10 years for people with untreated hearing loss.

Frank Lin’s research ties hearing loss to dementia, with big implications for public health

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Researcher Frank Lin, who heads the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health and researches hearing loss related to dementia, discusses the challenges of treating hearing loss even when hearing aids are used. He says devices often go unused because people don’t understand they need an audiologist to properly fit hearing aids and adjust them over time.

“Unrealistic expectations are a big part of this problem,” Lin states in the article. “It’s not like putting on a pair of glasses that immediately enables you to see clearly. Hearing loss is not fixed as easily as eyesight. The brain needs time — a good month or two — to adjust to hearing aids. And the earlier hearing loss is treated, the easier it is for the brain to adapt.”

Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for the ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org.

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