As we step into a new year, health resolutions often revolve around familiar themes like diet and exercise. However, emerging research on hearing loss by subject matter experts, such as Dr. Janet Choi, Dr. Frank Lin, and Dr. Thomas Holland suggests that a crucial aspect might be missing from these resolutions – hearing health.
Recent findings, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal, reveal that regular use of hearing aids can significantly lower the risk of premature death among U.S. adults with hearing loss. Dr. Choi, an otolaryngologist with Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California, leads the way in unraveling the potential life-saving benefits of hearing aids, supported by insights from Dr. Lin and Dr. Holland.
The Lifesaving Impact of Regular Hearing Aid Use
Dr. Janet Choi's groundbreaking study, encompassing data from over 10,000 U.S. adults between 1999 and 2012, brings to light a startling revelation – a 24% lower risk of mortality for individuals with hearing loss who regularly wear hearing aids. This association holds true across various demographics, emphasizing the protective role of hearing aids. Regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, type of insurance, and severity of hearing loss, regular hearing aid users exhibited a significantly lower mortality risk. Dr. Choi emphasizes that hearing aids are more than optional devices; they play a vital role in enhancing overall well-being.
The study categorized 1,863 adults with hearing loss based on their hearing aid usage patterns: regular, non-regular, or never users. Despite adjustments for factors like wealth, education, and overall health, researchers found that the almost 25% difference in mortality risk between regular hearing aid users and never-users remained steady. Dr. Choi says it's stunning how few people with hearing loss wear hearing aids regularly – just 12%. The majority had never worn a hearing aid. Another striking finding is that people in the study who had hearing aids but didn't use them regularly were as likely to die prematurely as those who never used them.
Dr. Choi's Personal Experience with Hearing Loss
Dr. Choi can personally relate to these challenges. She was born with hearing loss in her left ear but didn’t wear a hearing device until her 30s. She initially resisted wearing hearing aids, given her excellent hearing in one ear. However, her work as a surgeon revealed the impact of untreated hearing loss.
In the operating room, background noise posed challenges, leading to misunderstandings. Dr. Choi shares, "People thought that I was just ignoring them, which was actually not true. I just didn't hear them." Now a regular hearing aid user, she attests to the significant improvement in her hearing and encourages others to reconsider the benefits of hearing aids.
Reflecting on her own journey, Dr. Choi notes, “I really want to encourage any people experiencing hearing loss to seek care. I've tried at least three different hearing aids. But when I found the one that really fit me and that I liked, I was surprised by the sound that I was missing.” Today, with her hearing significantly improved with the help of hearing aids. She expresses contentment, saying, "I'm very happy I got hearing aids."
Time to Use Hearing Aids When You Have Hearing Loss
While the study doesn't delve into the mechanisms behind these associations, hypotheses suggest that untreated hearing loss may impact brain structures due to auditory deprivation. Dr. Lin's research adds weight to this understanding, revealing a 48% reduction in cognitive decline associated with wearing hearing aids. MRI scans of participants further indicate that hearing-aid users experience a slower rate of brain tissue loss.
Even though the study doesn't precisely define the optimal frequency for hearing aid use, Dr. Choi suggests that using hearing aids at least once a week could have a positive effect. The best results, according to her, are likely achieved with daily use. Even individuals with mild hearing loss can benefit from regular hearing aid use, paving the way for future research to determine when people should start using hearing aids and how often to wear them for optimal health benefits.
Overcoming Barriers to Hearing Aid Adoption
Despite the potential benefits, Dr. Choi notes that many individuals remain hesitant about wearing hearing aids due to barriers such as cost, lack of insurance coverage and societal stigma. She hopes her research will encourage healthcare providers to recommend hearing aids more widely and lead to better insurance coverage, emphasizing that hearing loss is not an irreversible part of aging.
Dr. Thomas Holland, a physician scientist at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, underscores the study's significance in addressing modifiable risk factors. He notes the critical role of such interventions, not just for immediate health benefits but as a potent strategy for enhancing longevity and overall well-being. These insights challenge the notion that hearing loss is an inevitable part of aging with no effective solutions.
As research continues to unveil the profound impact of hearing aids on longevity and well-being, the call to prioritize hearing health becomes increasingly urgent. Dr. Janet Choi, Dr. Frank Lin and Dr. Thomas Holland contribute to a growing body of evidence that positions hearing aids not merely as assistive devices but as potential lifesavers. A simple act of wearing hearing aids emerges as a sound investment, fostering communication, preserving cognitive function, and enhancing the quality of life for individuals with hearing loss.
As we navigate the challenges of an aging population, understanding the importance of regular hearing aid use emerges as a crucial factor in fostering a healthier, more vibrant future. The study's insights invite us to overcome adoption barriers, dispel social stigmas, and recognize the transformative potential of hearing aids in shaping a happier, healthier life.