Hearing Loss Linked with Chronic Disease, Reduced Earnings

Recently, the Better Hearing Institute announced a campaign encouraging employers to emphasize hearing health in their workplace wellness programs.

The vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. In fact, three out of four hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life due to wearing hearing aids. And studies show that when people with even mild hearing loss use hearing aids, they improve their job performance, increase their earning potential, enhance their communication skills, improve their professional and interpersonal relationships, and stave off depression.

The Institute noted research linking hearing loss to such chronic conditions as Alzheimer's, kidney disease, diabetes, and even heart disease. Additionally, hearing loss is linked to a greatly increased risk of injury-causing falls among people aged 40-69.

Further, untreated hearing loss is linked to reduced earnings, increased workplace absenteeism, and lower workplace productivity, as well as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.

BHI is promoting an online hearing test (http://www.hearingcheck.org/) that allows people to assess their own hearing. While the online test is not a substitute for a comprehensive audiologist-administered exam, it can serve as a "wake-up call" that encourages people to seek professional care.

"Hearing loss is far more serious than people realize," says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI's executive director. "When left unaddressed, [it] negatively affects virtually every aspect of an individual's life. And in the workplace, especially, untreated hearing loss can take a significant financial toll."

In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Audiology found that employees with hearing loss are as much as five times more likely than their co-workers with normal hearing to experience stress so severe that they must take more sick-days. One reason may be that only four in ten people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss use hearing aids. Even fewer people with mild hearing loss use them--just one in ten.

In a large national study, BHI found that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss; that the aggregate yearly loss in income due to underemployment for people with untreated hearing loss is an estimated $176 billion; and that the fiscal cost to society in unrealized federal taxes is an estimated $26 billion. Use of hearing aids was shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss.

"I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of both protecting the hearing of America's workforce and addressing workers' hearing problems," says Kochkin. "When hearing is lost, it cannot be regained. But when hearing loss is appropriately acknowledged and addressed, it does not have to interfere with job performance, earnings, or quality of life. I urge all employers to make hearing health a routine part of their wellness programs."

This content originally appeared in MarketWatch coverage at http://goo.gl/oAXaw

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