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Wearing Hearing Aids May Extend Lives

Originally published January 30, 2024

Last updated May 24, 2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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A man looking happy wearing a hearing aid.

Our CEO talks about innovative research being done at Keck Medicine, such as a recent groundbreaking study on hearing aid use and longevity.

Keck Medicine of USC otolaryngologist Dr. Janet Choi was born with hearing loss in her left ear. Growing up, she was not encouraged to wear hearing aids. Finally, during her medical fellowship in her 30s, she gave them a try. “They made a huge difference,” she said. “I was amazed to hear the sounds I had been missing.”   

She went on to specialize in hearing disorders, where she learned that hearing loss is even more than missing part of a conversation or a lecture; it has been linked to social isolation, depression, dementia and early death.   

She also followed new discoveries associating hearing aid use with lowered levels of depression and dementia.   

Yet, she wondered, is the risk of death lower among those who wear hearing aids? It turned out, little research had been done examining this connection. So Dr. Choi decided to launch a study on the topic.   

The results of her efforts were stunning — she and her fellow researchers discovered that wearing hearing aids regularly was associated with a reduced risk of death by almost 25 percent for those with hearing loss. This finding, published earlier this month in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, held steady regardless of variables such as the degree of hearing loss, age, ethnicity, income, education and medical history.   

The results of this study could have a dramatic effect on many. Approximately 40 million American adults and some 1.5 billion people around the world experience hearing loss. Yet of those who need hearing aids, only one in 10 use them.   

This phenomenon is due to a variety of reasons, including the cost and stigma of wearing them, as well as difficulty finding devices that fit and function well. Dr. Choi’s study, which has been featured in prominent publications around the globe, may be what inspires someone to give hearing aids a chance, potentially extending their life in the process.   

This groundbreaking study illustrates how we are working to solve the biggest health challenges facing us today. Whether we’re investigating the feasibility of the first-ever bladder transplant, examining new treatments for neurological disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease or studying new therapies for metastatic cancer, our researchers continually push toward new scientific breakthroughs to improve and save lives. Keck Medicine also has hundreds of clinical trials in progress across various disciplines, leading to new hope for current and future patients.  

And often, as in Dr. Choi’s case, passion for the work is motivated by life experience. Dr. Mark Humayun, an ophthalmologist and bioengineer, is determined to cure macular degeneration, and has committed his career to greatly reducing blindness after watching his grandmother lose her sight. Dr. Uttam Sinha, one of our noted head and neck surgeons, was inspired to become a doctor because growing up in India, he saw people with debilitating neck and head tumors.  

Another example of how the personal can shape the professional is research conducted by Dr. Marlena Fejzo, a medical scientist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. During pregnancy, she suffered from an extreme form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum. When she realized that little was known about the condition, she became determined to learn the cause. And she did; she is the first author of a recently published study identifying the key cause of morning sickness and a potential way to prevent it.  

This type of dedication will continue to motivate our practitioners to discover medical breakthroughs. And much of our research points to another key goal of our health system — to help our patients make lifestyle choices that will improve their health. Wellness and medicine go hand in hand, and sometimes a small effort can have a major impact. That’s why if I ever notice any hearing loss, I know one of the first things I’ll do — make an appointment with Dr. Choi.

The results of her efforts were stunning — she and her fellow researchers discovered that wearing hearing aids regularly was associated with a reduced risk of death by almost 25 percent for those with hearing loss.

Rod Hanners, CEO of Keck Medicine of USC

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Rod Hanners
Rod Hanners is CEO of Keck Medicine of USC.

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