Why Don’t Doctors Routinely Screen For Hearing Loss?

A Missed Opportunity

Every year at annual medical check-ups, the doctor checks height and weight, listens to your heart and takes your blood pressure. He or she scans your skin for any moles that might have changed, looks at your eyes, ears and down your throat. He or she orders blood work, and sometimes even other tests, but in most cases, the doctor does not check for hearing loss.

The lack of focus on hearing as an important part of one’s health is misguided and needs to change. Hearing loss is associated with many health problems, including depression, heart disease, diabetes, an increased likelihood of falls and even a higher risk of dementia. Identifying and treating hearing loss early could be a big help in lowering these risks, improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss, and reducing overall health care costs for us all.

Hearing Loss A Potentially Reversible Risk Factor For Dementia

comprehensive study by the Lancet Commission published in July 2017 identified hearing loss as a potentially reversible risk factor for dementia. Other potentially reversible risk factors included cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes and hypertension, plus obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, depression, and low childhood educational attainment.

Not only was this the first time that hearing loss was mentioned as a potentially reversible risk factor in a study such as this, it was estimated to be the largest potentially reversible risk factor. Hearing loss in middle age (45-64 year) was determined to account for 9.1% of the risk of dementia, the highest level of all the modifiable risk factors identified. Rounding out the top three were low childhood education level (7.5%) and smoking in later life (5.5%). The chart below represents data from Table 1 from the Lancet article. 

Dementia Risk Factors

Population attributable fraction (PAF) “is the percentage reduction in new cases over a given time if a particular risk factor were completely eliminated.” – The Lancet

For people who live with hearing loss, knowing that it is a large risk factor for dementia is terrifying. The good news is that because hearing loss is a potentially reversible risk factor, we can do probably something about it, meaning that if we recognize and treat it early, we can potentially reduce our risk of developing dementia. This is one of the reasons why doctors should routinely screen for hearing.

Routine Doctor Screening For Hearing Loss Recommended 

Routine doctor screening for hearing loss was among the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences report entitled, “Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.” Perhaps the call for better hearing health care is building momentum.

What can we do to help raise awareness of this important topic?

  1. Get your hearing checked. If your primary care doctor does not automatically screen your hearing, ask him to do it and explain why you are asking.
  2. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. If more patients begin requesting the service, doctors may start to take note.
  3. Advocate for yourself in medical settings. Make sure that doctors and other health professionals are communicating with you in a manner you can understand. This involves asking for the accommodations you need, if any.
  4. Partner with advocacy groups. Hearing Loss Association of America represents the hearing loss consumer’s viewpoint to decision makers in the national government and elsewhere. Local advocacy groups could also have an impact in your immediate community.

Call Schmidt’s Optical and Hearing™ today at 772-286-4327 and schedule your FREE comprehensive hearing evaluation with our Board Certified Hearing Aid Specialist.

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