Hearing aids linked to lower risks of dementia, depression, falls

In a new study, researchers found older adults who get a hearing aid for hearing loss have lower risks of dementia, depression or anxiety and a lower risk of suffering fall-related injuries.

However, only 12% of those who have a formal diagnosis of hearing loss actually get the devices – even when they have insurance coverage for at least part of the cost.

The research was conducted by a University of Michigan team.

The team analyzed data from nearly 115,000 people over age 66 with hearing loss and insurance coverage through a Medicare HMO between 2008 and 2016.

Unlike traditional Medicare, Medicare HMOs typically cover some hearing aid costs for members diagnosed with hearing loss by an audiologist.

The team shows that men with hearing loss were more likely to receive a hearing aid – 13.3% compared with 11.3% of women.

Only 6.5% of people of Latino heritage received a hearing aid for their hearing loss, compared with 9.8% of African-Americans and 13.6% of whites.

Nearly 37% of people with hearing loss who lived in the north-central part of the country, as designated by the Census Bureau, used a hearing aid, compared with just 5.9% of people in the mountain states.

In all, the relative risk of being diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, within three years of a hearing loss diagnosis was 18% lower for hearing aid users.

The risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety by the end of three years was 11% lower for hearing aid users, and the risk of being treated for fall-related injuries was 13% lower.

The team says though hearing aids can’t be said to prevent some health conditions, a delay in the onset of dementia, depression, and anxiety, and the risk of serious falls, could be important both for the patient and for the costs to the Medicare system.

Medicaid in the state of Michigan is now covering hearing aid testing, fitting, and purchase, since a policy change in 2018, and that it will be important to study impacts in this population as well.

The lead author of the study is Elham Mahmoudi, MBA, Ph.D., the U-M Department of Family Medicine health economist.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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