Older adults with untreated hearing loss incur substantially higher total health care costs compared to those who don’t have hearing loss — an average of 46 percent, totaling $22,434 per person over a decade, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This is one of the largest studies to look at this issue, following many individuals for a full 10 years. The project was done in collaboration with AARP, University of California San Francisco and OptumLabs.
The differences between the two groups were evident as early as two years after diagnosis. Compared to the patients without hearing loss, patients with the condition generated nearly 26 percent more in total health care costs within two years, a gap that widened to 46 percent by 10 years, amounting to $22,434 per individual ($20,403 incurred by the health plan, $2,030 by the individual in out-of-pocket costs). The study did not include patients with hearing loss who had evidence of hearing aid use.
The findings, published Nov. 8 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, add to a growing body of research from Johns Hopkins and elsewhere showing the detriments of untreated hearing loss, which include a higher risk of dementia and cognitive decline, falls, depression and lower quality of life. In a companion paper published in the same issue, a study led by Bloomberg School researchers suggests a link between untreated hearing loss and significantly greater morbidity, affirming early studies.
It’s unclear how hearing loss has translated into longitudinal trends of health care utilization and costs, particularly for those whose hearing loss remains untreated, says study lead Dr. Nicholas S. Reed, a member of the core faculty of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School and an instructor of audiology in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.