Hearing loss is a chronic condition that affects nearly two-thirds of adults aged 70 or older in the United States, and it has been independently associated with cognitive impairment and poor physical functioning in an array of research journals. Data on hospitalization rates among those with hearing loss, however, is sparse, and better data might offer some insight into the health of the hearing-impaired populace as compared to normal hearing individuals.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Association of Hearing Loss with Hospitalization and Burden of Disease in Older Adults” is the first nationally representative study to demonstrate an independent association between hearing loss and increased hospitalization rates. The results were startling.
Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those with at least a mild hearing loss (25 dB or more) were more likely to be hospitalized more often and self-reported more than 10 days of poor physical or mental health.
Those with hearing loss were more likely to be male, white, less educated, in lower-income households, have a history associated with cardiovascular risk factors, a history of hospitalization in the past year, and more hospitalizations overall. Data on hospitalizations and type of disease the individual was hospitalized with (a mental or physical health problem) were gathered via computer-assisted or interviewer-administered questionnaires.
Given the broad implications hearing loss has not only on an individual level, but also on a community health level, more aggressive preventive measures and more specialized treatment may help at-risk populations and improve overall health at a local level. The effects of hearing loss on social isolation, health-related oral literacy, and cognitive decline are well documented. To help prevent incidents that create health problems with the elderly — or anyone with a measurable hearing loss — greater patient education should be at the forefront of our local community’s health endeavors.