On Oct.1, 2015, Reuters reported that a recent study involving researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland shows that older people with significant hearing loss are at risk to die sooner than people with normal hearing. While researchers haven’t determined the cause of the connection, the study points to hearing impairment as at least a warning sign and maybe even a contributor to lowered survival odds.
“In the simplest terms, the worse the patient’s hearing loss, the greater the risk of death,” lead author Kevin Contrera said of the study’s findings. While prior research has linked hearing problems to negative health effects, few studies have addressed mortality risk, Contrera and his colleagues write in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
Reuters notes that a hearing loss researcher who teaches at the University of Manchester in the U.K. and had no connection to the study wasn’t surprised by the results because seniors with hearing loss tend to have more difficulty with communication, are more socially isolated, and are less able to care for their own long-term health conditions. However, it isn’t clear whether increased mortality risk arises from hearing loss itself or these related conditions. Since most older people have some hearing impairment, hearing loss could just be a marker of being older and sicker in general.
The study involved data on 1,666 adults from a nationally representative survey conducted in 2005-2006 and 2009-2010, as well as death records through the end of 2011. The study group were all over age 70 and had undergone hearing testing. Using World Health Organization definitions of hearing impairment in light of age, the researchers found that people with moderate or severe hearing impairment had a 54 percent greater risk of dying than those with normal hearing. In contrast, participants with mild hearing impairment had a 27 percent greater risk of mortality. Meanwhile, even after injecting other potential mortality indicators into the mix, people with moderately or severely impaired hearing had a 39 percent higher risk of death than those without hearing problems, and those with mild hearing impairment had a 21 percent greater risk.
Since two thirds of adults over 70 experience some hearing impairment, every hearing impairment alone doesn’t automatically indicate a major health issue. Still, in light of the links shown in the study, seniors with noticeable hearing loss would do well to discuss the study with their health providers.
While this study is outside the typical topics we discuss on this blog, at FriedmanLaw, we think it’s important to take a broad approach to solving legal issues. Thus, we hope you have found this post useful.