Past studies looked into effects of hearing loss in overall health. Only a few studies tackled its link to mortality. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore found that seniors with moderate to severe hearing problems have 54 percent mortality risk compared to those with normal hearing. Seniors with mild hearing problems carry a 27 percent mortality risk.
The research team gathered data from two surveys done in 2005 to 2006 and 2009 to 2010. The surveys involved 1,666 older adults. They cross-checked the survey findings with the death records through 2011.
The surveyed participants were 70-year-old adults and older, and everyone took a hearing test. The team used the World Health Organization's hearing impairment criteria to gauge the level of hearing loss. Their finding showed 66 percent of the senior adults had hearing problems and the mortality risk is higher in adults whose level of hearing loss range from moderate to severe.
The team took into consideration several factors such as heart ailments, blood pressure, sex, education and race that could have influenced the mortality risk. Even so, seniors with moderate to severe hearing problem still have 39 percent risk of death while seniors with mild hearing problems have 21 percent risk.
"In the simplest terms, the worse the patient's hearing loss, the greater the risk of death," said Kevin Contrera, the study's lead author. While direct connection has not been identified, the findings suggest that hearing loss could be a factor in a person's mortality risk.
Piers Dawes, a lecturer in audiology at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, commended that hearing problems could have direct contributions to a person's well-being and overall health. Seniors with hearing problems tend to become isolated. They are also prone to communication difficulty and long-term health risk. Dawes is not involved in the study.
The research team expressed that further studies are needed to determine if hearing loss can be classified as a cause of death. Contrera's research did not look into the effects of hearing aids and whether it can reduce the mortality risk. Treating it can promote social engagement and improved communication with health professionals. When taken collectively, the positive effects of hearing loss treatment can reduce the mortality risk.
Contrera retained that the findings can be beneficial not just to older people but across age groups. While hearing loss is common in seniors, early treatment can be done to reduce further risks.
Hearing loss one of the leading illnesses affecting older adults. In the United States, around 48 million adults suffer from the illness that greatly affected their professional and personal lives.
The research team published their findings in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery journal on Sept. 24, 2015.