Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
An alarming new study finds medical professionals who research communication between physicians and their elderly patients aren’t factoring in an important aspect of patient health — hearing loss.
A team led by Dr. Joshua Chodosh of New York University School of Medicine and Dr. Jan Blustein, of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, reviewed 67 published pieces of medical literature regarding doctor-patient communication, which involved patients 60 years of age and older. Of them, only 16 included any mention of hearing loss. In four cases, those with hearing loss were excluded from the study. Three studies reported an association between hearing loss and quality of care. One study provided hearing assistance to see if it would improve communication and found it increased patient understanding.
Why does this matter?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that one in three Americans over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss, while two out of three Americans over the age of 75 have hearing loss. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates untreated hearing loss costs $750 billion international dollars annually, including costs associated with medical costs (excluding hearing devices), educational support, loss of productivity and societal costs.
The NYU study underscores several concerns:
- Elderly Americans are not understanding physician instructions and, therefore, not receiving the care they need. “Hearing loss has long been neglected in the medical community,” Chodosh said in an NYU news release. “As a geriatrician, I see many patients who struggle to hear what I’m saying to them. That makes me less certain that they are getting what they need.”
- Difficulty in physician-patient communications due to untreated hearing loss can increase medical costs as well as mortality. A study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina compared health care costs of a large group of privately insured individuals between the ages of 55 and 65, both with and without hearing loss. Costs for those with hearing loss were 33 percent higher than those without hearing loss. A 2015 study by researchers at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore found a 39 percent increase in mortality risk among those with mild or severe untreated hearing loss.
- Those who would benefit most from wearing hearing aids are not doing so. Even though research indicates hearing devices improve quality of life and overall health, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports only one in three adults over the age of 70 who would benefit from using hearing aids has ever used them.
What can you do?
- If you have hearing loss, seek treatment immediately. Untreated hearing loss doesn’t just affect your ability to communicate with your doctor, family members, friends and colleagues, it affects your overall health. Hearing devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, improve quality of life and reduce your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression. To find a hearing healthcare professional, check out our directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics in your community.
- Don’t allow the price of hearing aids to deter you from seeking treatment because solutions exist for nearly every budget. Ask your hearing healthcare professional about payment plans and other resources for obtaining hearing health assistance. Veterans should check with the Veteran’s Administration and those still in the workforce or attending school should check with their state office of vocational rehabilitation.
- Advocate for family members who have hearing loss and be a second set of ears. Accompany them to doctor appointments whenever possible and take notes. Make sure they understand the care instructions they receive and why they have been prescribed medication. Make sure the doctor and medical office staff understands that your loved one has a hearing loss and be assertive about their needs. To the best of your ability, encourage your loved one to have annual hearing evaluations and help them find affordable treatment.
The recent study proves that although hearing loss is a major medical concern affecting more than 48 million Americans, it is not often top- of-mind for medical professionals who deal with patients who are likely to be affected. When left untreated, hearing loss can contribute to additional health problems, especially among the elderly population who may find it difficult to understand information they receive from their physicians. Treatment and advocacy improve communication, decrease medical costs and prolong life.