When we think of hearing loss as a costly global phenomenon, how can we put a number on that cost? Some of the ways that hearing loss is costly are intangible, such as the decreased quality of life and the frustration of strained social relationship due to miscommunication. It’s hard to estimate what is worth to have an easy conversation with a stranger, for example. In addition to these intangibles, there are the direct, clear costs associated with hearing loss. Those who have untreated hearing loss demonstrate higher rates of physical, mental, and cognitive health issues. They also have worse productivity in the workplace and can even cause a chain reaction of missteps in their jobs that can be quite costly to the bottom line. A recent study attempted to put a number on the global cost of hearing loss, and the result was a staggering amount. This study estimated that the annual cost of hearing loss in 2019 was $981billion in international equivalent value. How could the costs add up to nearly a trillion international dollars? Let’s take a closer look at the study, as well as the way that you can do your part to reduce this staggering cost through treatment.
Understanding the Cost
How did this study estimate such a high number, and what are the dynamics of costliness for hearing loss? A few factors are important to keep in mind. About 57% of these global costs occurred outside high-income areas, meaning that many of these people with hearing loss do not have access to treatment services. A full 23% of these costs occurred in East Asia alone, partially resulting from the large aging population in that region. What were the main categories of cost in this study? The first were excess non-hearing health care costs, resulting in 32% of the global cost. In other words, untreated hearing loss led to higher costs for other types of health care. Those who have untreated hearing loss demonstrated disproportionately higher rates of dementia, for instance, and the costs for dementia care can be partially attributed to this related hearing concern. Productivity losses at work accounted for 19% of the global cost. Those who have moderate to severe hearing loss in countries with full employment or nearly full employment rates saw lower productivity due to communication and other problems associated with hearing loss. Only 2-3% of these costs were associated with additional educational needs that are related to hearing loss. The largest portion of this massive number comes from the intangible loss of quality of life. The researchers estimated that 47% of the total global cost of hearing loss comes from the years lived with a disability. Some of these costs can be directly measured, while others have to do with the lacking ease of completing activities of daily life, for example. These many types of costs were estimated for the global population, but you can imagine the ways that an individual life is affected by costly hearing loss, as well.
Benefits of Treatment
Although some of these costs persist despite treatment, many of them can be reduced through treatment provision. For instance, the costs for quality of life can be reduced or eliminated for those who receive treatment for hearing loss and consistently wear hearing aids. Rather than spending years living with a disability, these individuals can return to life with a full range of daily activities and strong relationships. Productivity losses at work can be ameliorated through treatment, as well. When a worker wears hearing aids, communication and safety issues can be resolved, leading to a happier and more efficient workplace. Associate healthcare costs can be reduced through hearing aids, as well, making it clear that the provision of treatment is the key to reducing this massive global cost. Although resource and accessibility constraints get in the way of treatment for many in the developing world, nearly half of the global costs come from comparatively high-income regions. Getting treatment for hearing loss is a solution to many problems at the individual level, but we can also consider untreated hearing loss to be a social issue. Why not do your part by scheduling a hearing test?