Burdens of Hearing Loss and Dementia Expected to Put Pressure on Current System

July 26, 2017

If you’re a newly minted Doctor of Audiology, chances are good that by the end of your career you will see a near doubling of the number of people with hearing loss in the United States. Fueled mainly by a steady shift toward older adults, a recent report in JAMA-Otolaryngology, indicated that by 2060 more than 73 million Americans will have a mild losses or greater.

According to Adele Goman and her colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging & Health in Baltimore, Maryland by 2060 the number of people with a moderate hearing loss will exceed the number of people who have a mild hearing loss today.

The findings of this epidemiological research underscores the mounting public health issue of untreated hearing loss in adults and the burden it places on private and public resources; a problem associated with increased health care costs, accelerated cognitive decline, poorer physical functioning and other serious downstream conditions.


Untreated Hearing Loss: Growing Public Health Issue


Considering a society with an ever-expanding average life expectancy, the rise in hearing loss prevalence will place added pressure on the current service delivery methods used by audiologists, hearing instruments specialists and otolaryngologists.  As hearing loss prevalence continues to increase over the next several decades, the profession of audiology, which is already experiencing a shortage in many parts of the country, will likely need to seriously consider the use of audiology assistants, automated hearing assessments that utilize machine learning principles and remote tele-audiology services; emerging resources that could reduce the cost of care and reach more individuals who may not have access to services.


Another condition related to aging, one that is placing added pressure on healthcare resources, is dementia. In a comprehensive report published July 20 in the Lancet, hearing loss was identified as one of the nine modifiable health and lifestyle factors that, if eliminated, might prevent or lessen the effects of dementia.


With a cost of $800 billion per year globally, and expected to rise to over $2 trillion by 2030, public health experts are carefully investigating interventions that lower the cost of care and improve outcomes for individuals diagnosed with dementia. This could be a significant opportunity for hearing care professionals who are interested in addressing the needs of older adults with cognitive challenges who are willing to collaborate with public health policy officials to reduce healthcare expenditures and help more people.

Mainly due to an aging population, nearly 50 million people worldwide have dementia today. This figure is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030 and to 132 million by 2050, according to the Lancet report. Like hearing loss, dementia has detrimental effects on family and caregivers. Additionally, sufferers of dementia and hearing loss are at a higher risk of developing depression.


*Image courtesy health.mil

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