The Cost of Untreated Hearing Loss

Multi Generation Family Sitting On Sofa With Newborn Baby

We focus a great deal on the impact an untreated hearing loss has on the person who can’t hear.  But what is the impact of the loss on their friends and family?  What is the financial impact of the inability to hear?

The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) conducted a study commissioned by the Hearing Industries Association, of more than 2000 hard-of-hearing adults and about 1700 of their family members.

In its report, NCOA concluded, “untreated hearing loss was associated with increased anger, frustration, paranoia, insecurity, instability, nervousness, tension, anxiety, irritability, discontentment, depression, and fear.” The study also found that, “in comparison with people who have sought help for their hearing loss, those with untreated loss were more likely to be self-critical, feel a sense of inferiority, suffer from social phobias, and be perceived by others as confused, disoriented, or unable to concentrate.”

The Reality of Untreated Hearing Loss

Ann Brenoff, Senior Writer at the Huffington Post chronicled her experience living with her husband who (at the time this article was written) had untreated hearing loss.  Here is an excerpt from that article.

“Around 36 million American adults suffer from hearing loss, and my husband is one of them.

Let’s talk about what that means in very practical terms:

We now pick restaurants based on their noise level over the quality or type of food they serve. If the ceilings are too high or the walls too inadequately covered, the sounds of dishes and glasses clanking, music playing and people laughing will make it impossible for him to hear or participate in conversation at our table. The problem came to a head not long ago when we had to get up and leave after waiting an hour for a table at a tapas restaurant on Kauai because of the noise volume in the room. Why blow $100 on a vacation dinner to sit there unable to have a conversation, we reasoned. Was I disappointed? You bet.

We can no longer watch TV in the same room together. He needs the TV volume to be so loud that it rattles my molars. For his last birthday, I bought him a headset. It helps some … when he wears it. He doesn’t like to because he says it distorts the sound coming from the TV. Do I miss hearing his droll commentary whenever Anderson Cooper does a “60 Minutes” segment? Of course, I do.

Our cell-phone-to-cell-phone conversations are kept to just the basics. Information is shouted. It goes something like this:

Me: “Pick up milk.”
Him: “What about ‘tonight?’”
Me: “Milk. I said MILK.”

I’ve reverted to texting him and hoping he sees it in time. Does this compensatory measure work? Not always.

He doesn’t especially like to go to parties or events anymore if he knows there will be a microphone in use or electrified music playing. It makes it hard for him to make out what people are saying. When we do go, he stays close by my side, knowing that I’ll repeat keywords of the conversation to enable him to join in. Has this put a crimp in our social life? Absolutely.

Hearing loss doesn’t just impact the person whose hearing is diminished. Everyone who loves them and lives with them suffers. How has my husband’s affliction affected our family? For one, I’m tired of being accused of mumbling, of watching my husband become frustrated when the kids make noise in the backseat and he can’t hear me giving directions when I’m sitting next to him in the car. The kids have slipped into the role of being their Dad’s “ears,” knowing that he won’t understand them the first time; I hear their voices rise when they have to repeat things a third or fourth time and am grateful that there is no accompanying eye rolling or taking advantage of the fact that when he agrees to something, he might not actually have heard the request. Only once did I hear “Dad said we could watch it” to a particularly violent show.

For the record, my husband and I aren’t old. His hearing loss has been gradual and only recently reached the point where we know it has to be dealt with. How big a deal is it? With the exception of a heart attack he suffered six years ago, I can’t think of a bigger life-altering health issue that we’ve faced than his hearing loss.”

The social implications of untreated hearing loss are numerous and often profound. These include more stressful marriages and damage to other important relationships; impaired job performance; misperceptions by others who mistake the effects of hearing loss for mental deterioration, confusion, aloofness, etc.; and social isolation when hearing loss makes normal conversation difficult or impossible.

Beyond the social and familial impact of untreated hearing loss, there is the financial impact of untreated hearing loss.

But, what is the actual cost?

The Cost in Dollars and Cents of Untreated Hearing Loss

  • For taxpayers, a 2010 survey by the Better Hearing Institute on “The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on Household Income” compared income levels of people who used hearing aids, people with untreated hearing loss, and people with no hearing loss. The data shows that untreated hearing loss results in a loss of income per household of up to $30,000 per year, depending on the degree of hearing loss. This translates to $176 billion in unrealized income and a cost to society of $26 billion annually in unrealized federal income taxes (15% bracket).
  • For workers, noise-induced hearing loss is the most common occupational disease and the second most self-reported occupational injury.
  • For seniors, untreated hearing loss causes additional costs to Medicare and other health programs due to loss of independence, social isolation, depression, safety issues, and quality of life.
  • In 1999, the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) conducted the largest known study on the effects of untreated hearing loss among adults and their families. The study quantified both the negative results of untreated hearing loss and the positive impact of hearing instruments on an individual’s quality of life. It found that impaired hearing results in distorted communication, isolation, withdrawal, reduced sensory input, depression, anger, and severely reduced overall psychological health. Conversely, hearing aid usage results in:
    • Increased earnings power, of around 50%;
    • Enhanced emotional and mental stability and reduced anger, anxiety, depression and paranoia;
    • Reduced social phobias and improved interpersonal relationships.

Untreated hearing loss is not an insignificant problem.  The impacts are far-reaching.  If you suspect you or someone close to you has a hearing loss, please contact us today for an appointment.  The sooner you address the problem, the sooner you can minimize the impact of an untreated hearing loss.