On the fence about hearing aids? Here’s yet another reason to consider taking the plunge. People who use these nifty devices appear to get hospitalized or go to an emergency department less often than those who don’t wear them, according to recent research conducted at the University of Michigan.
Traditionally, many of those who could benefit from hearing aids have balked at getting them because of the cost (ranging from about $2,000 to $7,000 a pair) and the appearance of the devices (even though they have gotten less conspicuous in recent years).
A big question: Even though traditional Medicare doesn’t pay for these pricey devices (and Medicare Advantage plans cover only a portion of the cost), is it possible that the use of hearing aids is cost effective—through lower overall health care costs?
Study details: To investigate the health-care use and cost associated with hearing aids, researchers examined data from 1,336 adults ages 65 to 85 who reported that they had severe hearing loss.
Findings: Older adults who had hearing aids were less likely to have gone to the hospital or an emergency department during the one-year study period, according to the research, which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery. The difference was about two percentage points (24% versus 26% lower probability of emergency department visits…and 20% versus 22% lower probability of hospitalization). This may not sound like a major difference, but it is large enough to be statistically significant. In addition, those who were hospitalized and had hearing aids had shorter stays than those who did not—averaging a half day less in the hospital.
While those with hearing aids had fewer hospital stays and visits to emergency departments, they were more likely to have had an office visit with a physician during the study period. Interestingly, people who had hearing aids were less likely to have high blood pressure and/or diabetes. This could mean that these individuals had less need for hospital or emergency medical services—or, on the flip side, that the hearing aids were helping them to live healthier, more active lives. From a cost perspective, office visits are, of course, much less costly than visits to an emergency department or a hospital stay.
Add to that the growing body of research that has shown a wide range of harms when hearing loss goes untreated—everything from increased risk for accidents and depression to a greater likelihood of developing dementia.
The study failed to show an overall cost savings in health care, based on the rates of hospital and emergency department use by those who had hearing aids. However, the researchers plan to extend the study length to five years to determine whether such cost savings occur over time.
What this means for you: If you have hearing loss, the use of a hearing aid may improve your overall health and well-being, enabling you to use take care of your health with less-costly doctor’s office visits—rather than ending up in the hospital or at the door of your local emergency department. While the potential cost savings are still being sorted out, you can rest assured that treating your hearing loss will be a boon for your overall health.