Hearing Aids May Help Keep Seniors Out of the Emergency Room

A new study suggests that merely using a hearing aid can help keep older citizens out of the hospital.

Researchers looked at the health histories of 1,300 people between the ages 65 and 85 with serious loss of hearing. They found that only 45 percent of these people used hearing aids. The study compared the frequency of emergency room visits or hospital stays between the two groups and found that those with hearing aids were less likely to visit an emergency room or be admitted to a hospital. Although the difference was only 2 percentage points, the researchers say this difference is significant.

The researchers also found that people with hearing aids also visit doctors more often than those without, pointing out that doctor’s visits are significantly less costly than emergency room visits and hospitalization.

Since it is one of the most common disabilities among seniors, hearing loss and its effects on individuals and health care costs is an important issue. Noting that Medicare does not cover the price of hearing aids, researchers believe the study can point the way to a change in policy if money can be saved. Although the study itself does not prove cause and effect, Medicare policy-makers at least have the information they need to consider if covering the cost of hearing aids would benefit not just the individuals using them, but also taxpayers and society at large.

“Traditional Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids at all, Medicare Advantage plans may cover them but often ask members to share the cost at a high level, and only about half of states offer some Medicaid coverage for the lowest-income patients,” said study author Elham Mahmoudi, a health economist at the University of Michigan’s medical school.

“As the debate over expanding coverage continues, we hope this research and our future work will help inform the discussion,” Mahmoudi added.