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Research Adds New Dimension to Importance of Optimal Ear Health

An estimated 1 in 5 people worldwide have some form of hearing loss, but only a fraction of those who can benefit from hearing aids actually use them. This means that millions of the more than 1.5 billion children and adults who could be helped may be missing out on the communication and connections that better hearing can bring.

What if one of those potential benefits were longer life? A newer study that tracked nearly 10,000 adults found that this could be a possibility: Those who had hearing loss but regularly wore hearing aids experienced a nearly 25% reduced risk of mortality over non-hearing aid users. Let’s get into this exciting news and what it means.


Why Does Hearing Loss Have Such an Impact?

It’s no secret that hearing loss can stifle communication. Carrying a conversation or following the discussion can be difficult if the ears can’t pick up sound or transmit sound signals to the brain for interpretation. Even if one can hear speech, the ability to distinguish words, recognize specific consonants, or understand high-pitched voices can be greatly diminished when hearing is compromised.

But the consequences of hearing loss can reach beyond communication, potentially affecting relationships, social engagement, income potential, mental health, and even brain functioning. In fact, a growing body of research associates hearing loss with cognitive decline, including a potential five-fold risk of dementia among older adults with profound hearing issues over peers with healthier hearing.

In short, hearing has an important place in overall health. That’s why we recommend regular hearing checkups for the whole family, advocate for hearing protection in noisy environments, and provide advanced solutions to hearing difficulties. We also strongly believe in patient education, helping you understand your own hearing and ways to conserve and improve it.


What Does the Mortality Study Say?

Many people don’t realize that hearing loss is also tied to greater rates of mortality. In fact, this newer study, published in January 2024 in The Lancet, showed a higher risk of mortality in connection with more severe levels of hearing loss. The good news? Investigators in this groundbreaking research conversely found that hearing aids may help cut the risk of early death.

Scientists reviewed the data of 9,885 adults aged 20 and older — approximately 51% women and 49% men at a mean age of 48.6 — who were part of a national study between 1999 and 2012 and had taken hearing tests and filled out surveys concerning hearing-aid use. About 1,863 of the adults, or around 1 in 15, reportedly had hearing loss.

In tracking the participants’ mortality status over a 10-year period after their hearing evaluations and comparing outcomes among those with hearing loss who never wore hearing aids, wore them regularly, or wore them infrequently, researchers found that:

  • Mild hearing loss was tied to a lower mortality risk
  • As hearing-loss severity increases, so may mortality risk
  • Only 12.7% of those with hearing loss regularly leaned into hearing aids
  • Those reporting regular hearing aid use had a 24% lower mortality risk than nonusers
  • Both infrequent and non-hearing aid users with hearing loss had similar mortality risk


Wait — If Everyone Eventually Passes Away, What Does “Lower Mortality Risk” Really Mean?

Good question! Given that no one actually lives forever, the concept of “reduced mortality” can seem confusing. Here’s the scoop:

  • “Mortality” is the condition of being subject to death. All organisms — plants, animals, microbes, and humans — are mortal (at least as far as we know at this point!)
  • “Mortality risk” refers to the likelihood of death during a given period — based on age, health, environmental factors, genetics, behaviors, or other important elements.
  • “Higher mortality” means a comparatively greater likelihood or rate of death among a population, group, or other circumstance within a given period.
  • “Lower mortality” or “reduced risk of mortality” means a population or other group has less chance or lower rate of death within a given time period or circumstance versus a comparative pool.

As you can see, reduced mortality risk doesn’t quite confer immortality. It does, however, indicate a healthier state of being. Taking steps that reduce the chance of early death positions you for a better quality of life, an increased chance to enjoy the things you love, and more time to make lasting memories.


What Makes This Study So Groundbreaking?

Other studies have linked hearing loss to increased mortality risk.

  • One investigation published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences found a 20% higher risk of mortality among older adults with hearing loss, compared to their healthy-hearing peers.
  • Another investigation that also looked at older adults and was published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery estimated the increased mortality risk at an adjusted 21% or 39%, depending on the severity of hearing loss.
  • A longitudinal follow-up study published in early 2020 in the Journal Otology & Neurotology found a substantial mortality increase among adults 40 or older with severe or profound hearing loss.

Most profound, a 2021-released study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that both hearing loss and combined hearing and vision loss go hand in hand with increased risk of mortality, with hearing loss alone linked to a respective 13% and 28% increased odds of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

In that same study, hearing and vision loss combined were associated with significantly increased excess all-cause and cardiovascular mortality — 40% and 86%, respectively. Additionally, all-cause mortality (or total deaths in a population across various reasons or circumstances) doubled with each 30-decibel increase in the audiometric threshold or point at which a test tone can be heard.

The current Lancet-published study helps reinforce a growing body of research supporting connections between hearing loss and mortality. It stands apart, however, in being among the few studies asserting that hearing aids may play a role in curbing risk of early death. And that’s cause to celebrate. As we like to say, “Eat your greens, and wear your hearing aids.” (Well, we don’t really say that, but we might start.)

What underlies the possible connections between hearing aid use and lower mortality risk? The study left that question for others to potentially explore. In interviews, however, researchers from the study have pointed to other health improvements associated with hearing aids — reduced odds of depression and dementia, for example — that can support better wellness overall.


10 Signs You Might Have Hearing Loss

Do you suspect a hearing loss? If any of these sound familiar, it’s another good reason to get your hearing checked:

  • Family history of deafness or hearing loss
  • Frequently saying “Huh?” or “What?”
  • Loved ones complaining about your TV volume
  • Perception that those around you are mumbling
  • Ringing or buzzing in the head or ears (tinnitus)
  • Trouble listening in a noisy restaurant or crowded room
  • Problems following phone conversations or video chats
  • Withdrawal from the social gatherings you usually enjoy
  • Regular noise exposure at work, at home, or during recreation
  • Difficulty understanding the speaker at a meeting or religious service

As you can see, better hearing health can mean improved communication, increased empowerment, and possibly even a new lease on life. So don’t wait. If it’s been a while since your last hearing checkup or listening seems tougher than it used to be, contact our caring team to book an evaluation today. Let’s make sure you’re hearing better, so you can live your best!

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