16 September 2013

Untreated hearing loss causes poorer physical and mental health

There is a link between untreated hearing loss and poorer physical and mental health in older adults, a study has found.

Older adults with untreated hearing loss are more likely to require hospitalisation and suffer from periods of inactivity and depression, according to the results of a study from Johns Hopkins in the US. In general, the study found a link between hearing loss and poorer physical and mental health in older adults.

Social isolation

In the study, those with untreated hearing loss were found to be 32% more likely to have been admitted to a hospital and 36% more likely to have stretches of illness or injury lasting more than 10 days. They were also 57% more likely to have deep episodes of stress, depression or bad moods lasting more than 10 days when compared to their normal-hearing peers.

Experts, including those at Johns Hopkins, have suggested over the past few years that the physical and mental decline seen older adults experiencing hearing loss may be related to social isolation, which can often occur as untreated hearing loss progresses over time. The impact of social isolation might then lead to more frequent illnesses and ultimately hospitalisation.

 “Hearing loss may have a profoundly detrimental effect on older people's physical and mental well-being and even health care resources,” said Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., senior study investigator and Johns Hopkins otologist and epidemiologist. “Our results underscore why hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, but an important issue for public health.”

“Health policymakers really have to consider hearing loss and its broader health impact when making decisions, particularly for older people,” said Dane Genther, M.D., lead study investigator and a Johns Hopkins resident in otolaryngology - head and neck surgery.

Use of hearing aids might help

Researchers at Johns Hopkins are currently examining whether treating hearing loss through hearing aids or other types of assistive devices may actually reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

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