Hearing loss could increase likelihood of premature death

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Researchers say having a spouse or children can help reduce risk

For many consumers, experiencing hearing loss is a sign of old age, though oftentimes, many suspect it’s nothing more serious.

However, based on a new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, losing your hearing could actually be a risk factor associated with premature death.

In this study, the researchers were most interested in seeing if family dynamic -- primarily having a spouse or partner -- affected mortality in those with hearing loss.

“Old age greatly increases the risk for hearing loss,” said Dr. Vegard Skirbekk. “Therefore, as the population ages, we are seeing increasing numbers of people with hearing loss. At the same time, there are greater numbers of adults living without a partner -- putting people with hearing loss at an increased risk for death.”

People make a difference

The researchers evaluated data from over 50,000 participants who were involved in a Hearing Loss Survey in Norway from 1996 through 1998, and tracked participants’ deaths up through 2016.

The researchers found that, overall, those with spouses or partners were at less of a risk of premature death due to hearing loss.

While there could be many reasons why this occurs, the researchers speculate that family ties and support are beneficial to patients’ health. In times of poor health, family members are more likely to stick around for both moral and physical support.

Moreover, family members or spouses were more likely to suggest hearing aids, other health services, or encourage a more active social life, all of which the researchers suggest could positively contribute to quality of life.

However, hearing loss participants who didn’t have children or spouses were at a greater risk of accidental deaths.

“This may be due to a greater fatality from traffic-related incidents, for instance, as family members otherwise may have helped to prevent many of these deaths through warnings or preventive action,” said lead author Bo Engdahl.

As this study was the first to explore the way family dynamic play into the mortality risk for those with hearing loss, the researchers are hopeful that legislators keep these findings in mind moving forward.

“It is well known that rapid population-level aging is likely to result in a greater prevalence of hearing impairment, and that a loss of hearing can raise mortality risks,” Dr. Skirbekk said. “When governments develop plans to lower the incidence of hearing impairment, they may want to consider the family dimension when designing intervention and social and health support systems.”

Trouble at any age

Though this most recent study focused on adults, hearing impairments should be taken seriously at any age.

A recent study found that for many children with reading difficulties, the real problem may lie in their hearing abilities.

The researchers found that a quarter of students with dyslexia were also suffering from some kind of hearing impairment. Because a number of cases weren’t severe, the signs went unnoticed by many parents; however, the researchers stressed the importance of having young children’s hearing tested, as even a slight impairment can affect classroom performance.

“Many children in school may have an undetected mild hearing loss, which makes it harder for them to access the curriculum,” said Dr. Helen Breadmore. “Current hearing screening procedures are not picking up these children, and we would advise that children have their hearing tested in more detail and more often.”

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