June 15, 2024

People who need—and wear—hearing aids have a lower risk of dying, according to a new study.

New research, published earlier this month in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, found that adults who regularly wore their hearing aids had a 24% lower risk of dying compared to those who didn’t wear them.

But that doesn’t mean the hearing aids are causing them to live longer, Janet Choi, MD, an otolaryngologist at Keck Medicine of USC and lead researcher, told Health.

“We don’t know if there’s a causal relationship between those two,” Choi said. “That’s the big question we need to answer right now.”

She explained that the study was observational, so while it did show a difference in mortality risk, it did not prove causation.

That said, the results do suggest that hearing aids may play a protective role in people’s health and prevent early death.

Here’s how hearing aids might impact longevity, as well as how to find the correct hearing treatment.

Getty Images / Tatyana Aksenova

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from almost 10,000 adults between 1999 and 2012. Of this pool, 1,863 experienced hearing loss; 237 wore hearing aids regularly (at least once a week, five hours a week, or half the time), and 1,483 never wore hearing aids.

The researchers followed up on these participants’ mortality status over 10 years.

The link between the use of hearing aids and a reduction in death was steady even when researchers adjusted for hearing loss severity, income, age, ethnicity, education, and other factors.

This is not the first piece of research that proves just how seriously hearing loss can negatively impact someone’s life.

A 2019 study found that not treating hearing loss can result in a shorter time of living without limitations affecting physical function and activities of daily life.

Untreated hearing loss is also linked to depression and increased risk for falls. And, it increases the chances of being underemployed or unemployed.

According to the National Council on Aging, people with mild hearing loss also have twice the risk of dementia compared to people without hearing loss. Moderate hearing loss triples the risk. Studies support this correlation.

On the other hand, a 2023 study showed that using hearing aids can slow cognitive decline in older adults. 

In general, using hearing aids can benefit overall well-being. A different 2023 study found that people reported better health-associated quality of life from using hearing aids.

While research isn’t clear exactly how treating hearing loss can lower the risk of death, Choi explained that improving hearing does enhance mental health so people live healthier lives.

Hearing aids might improve someone’s ability to communicate, stimulating the brain, Nicholas S. Reed, AuD, an audiologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Health.

This could reduce cognitive decline, improve physical activity, and allow people to work or engage in hobbies.

“Humans are social creatures and preventing social isolation is a major priority…given that it is highly associated with increased risk of mortality,” Reed said.

This enhanced communication can also help those with hearing loss better communicate with health professionals, which may positively decrease the risk of disease and hospitalization, Kristan Alfonso, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, told Health.

“Hearing loss can also contribute to social isolation, loneliness, and cognitive decline,” Alfonso said. “These factors have been shown to be related to poorer quality of life and longevity.”

Choi explained that the study is a start for future research that will try to define the mechanism at play.

It’s worth noting that disparities will likely play a role in this connection, as wealthy, health-minded individuals may be more apt to treat hearing problems.

“It’s important to remember that those who own and use hearing aids are starting out as a very different group from the rest of the population and no matter how many ways we try to account for this statistically, it can be hard to truly tease apart with prospective trials,” said Reed.

In 2019, about 1.57 billion people globally—or one in five—experienced hearing loss. Of these people, 62.1% were over the age of 50.

In the U.S. alone, about 15.5% of adults—40 million people—have hearing problems. Of this group, 16% of people between the ages of 20 and 69 who need hearing aids use them.

Older adults tend to use hearing aids more, but there are still disparities in this age group, mostly due to device costs.

In 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the-counter hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Since Choi’s data came from before then, the new study doesn’t include insight into how these devices may impact the population’s health. She explained that she believes using OTC devices will also lower the risk of death so long as they’re used as indicated.

Choi explained that getting a hearing test done is the first step in addressing hearing loss.

Insurance will cover the test if you report that you have a hearing issue, she said.

Many people go to their primary care doctors and then head to an audiologist for a test. If hearing loss is detected, the audiologist will probably refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, or otolaryngologist.

“A common ‘symptom’ of hearing loss is thinking others are mumbling and this may be a sign to look out for,” said Reed.

Once you know if there’s a hearing issue, you can tell if you’ll benefit from an OTC hearing aid or a prescription hearing aid. Your state may require a medical exam or hearing test to get prescription hearing aids.

Reed suggested people try a mobile app like Mimi to check hearing if they’re not ready for a professional test.

“Knowledge is power in this case, as it may help judge if you’re having trouble with certain situations that you may not otherwise notice because hearing loss sets in insidiously slow,” he said.

Over the past decade, many new hearing technologies have come on the market that can be incredibly helpful in treating hearing loss, Choi added.

“You won’t clearly know those options unless you get your hearing tested,” she said. “There are a lot of things you can do about it.”


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