Hearing Loss, Dementia and “Out of Reach” Costs Are Topics at AAAS Meeting

February 15, 2016

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the world’s most well respected scientific organizations, held their annual meeting in Washington, February 11-15, 2016. On Sunday, February 14, Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore participated in an AAAS symposium entitled, At a Loss for Words, or Losing Your Mind? New Views on Language Problems in Aging. Serving as one of three panelists, the title of Lin’s presentation was Hearing Loss and Dementia: Who’s Listening?

During his presentation Dr. Lin described his research on cognitive decline and age-related hearing loss as well as his recent work of the potential mitigating factor of hearing aid use. His team has recently begun to study using a randomized trial involving 60 individuals.  In a recent report in the UK’s Guardian, Lin said the prevalence of hearing loss doubles for every decade of life, and that its high prevalence has led physicians to dismiss it too often. “The vast majority of dementias in late life are multifactorial,” he said, “but the role of hearing loss has just not been studied.”

Lin estimates that as much as a 36% of dementia risk is attributable to hearing impairment, although he admitted that theoretical assertion needs further testing. When a person needs to strain to listen to “a very garbled message through the ear”, it overtaxes the brain. This effort, as well as atrophy in underused regions, precipitates changes in brain structure, he continued, eventually causing “cascading effects on brain structure and then brain function.”

“Treating hearing loss could potentially help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” he said, “but hearing aids are out of reach for the vast number of Americans.” The issue of hearing aid cost as it relates to non-use and poor uptake continues to be contentious. Recently, several thoughtful and well-referenced articles have appeared, several in HHTM, challenging cost as the overriding factor leading to poor acceptance of amplification by adults with age-related hearing loss

Much of the concern expressed by public health leaders about the hearing aid industry centers on the fact that the population of older people in the US has increased tenfold in the last century, and the fact that age-related hearing loss is no longer considered an inconsequential part of aging. Further, this concern are magnified because the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 44 million people were older than 65 in 2013, and that by 2030, 133 million Americans will be aged 50 and older. The average cost of a pair of hearing aids, along with several hours of personal counseling and follow-up care is just over $4000 in the United States.

feature image courtesy of Red Orbit

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  1. So… if cost is the biggest barrier to uptake, why is uptake still so poor in areas where insurance covers near 100% of the costs?

    I think STIGMA is the bigger issue. As a hearing impaired person and a hearing specialist, it is shocking the number of ignorant, rude and downright mean things people say to me when they find out I’m hearing impaired. This includes the people who come in to see me to get help for their hearing. Furthermore, the consequences of hearing loss have generally been ignored by the medical profession, and the hearing impaired are often literally left out of the conversation about what our needs are. Case in point, the national survey on disabilities neglected to include hearing impairment BECAUSE it was a phone survey! We all had to raise a fuss to even be considered as a disabled population. That right there tells you a lot about how society views hearing impairment and hearing impaired individuals – inconsequential. Considering this is how society treats us, is it any wonder that denial is how most people deal with hearing loss?

  2. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Hearing Aids

    Keep Posting:)

  3. As an audiologist – my take is that hearing aids are not able to deliver the signal-to-noise ratios in places where people with hearing loss need them the most (noisy restaurants, large lectures, in reverberant houses of Worship, airports) due to the deleterious effects of distance, background noise and reverberation. Were hearing aids (or smartphones) equipped with a universal wireless receiver that could directly pick up the audio signals in these places – and thus offer phenomenal better-than-normal-speech-understanding – word on the street as to the benefit of hearing aids would dramatically change. It was Sergei Kochkin who advocated for an increase of Multiple Environmental Listening Utility (MELU) already back in 2007. Sergei Kochkin, as the head of the Better Hearing Institute then, fully supported the hearing loop movement, knowing that hearing loops and telecoils offer that universal wireless direct-to-hearing-aid assistive technology for users in the above mentioned places except for conversations in noisy restaurants. The hearing industry would do well to support the current hearing loop movement as every hearing loop makes every hearing aid with a telecoil more useful to its owner. The hearing loop advocates are paving the way once a low cost worldwide, non-proprietary, direct hearing aid compatible wireless (Greentooth?) technology becomes widely available. Yes, installing loops right is not easy and involves the installation of wire – but where hearing loops take a hold in a geographic area – they quickly become the go to technology, give its users great hearing and help give hearing aids some great positive word of mouth.

  4. All of this leaves out the fact that even if hearing aids were free people still do not want them. Various studies have shown this in countries where instruments were dispensed free of charge.

  5. I’m sorry to read that Anonymous has experienced stigma for being hearing impaired. I have not had such an experience yet, myself. My audiologist wears hearing aids and my assumption has been that he understands better than most how hearing loss affects someone. I think that aids will become acceptable in time, just as wearing eyeglasses is no longer stigmatized. I cried when I had to get glasses when I was 17, (I’m now 84) as there was a saying at that time, “Boys never make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

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