By 2050 the number of people living with disabling hearing loss will increase to 2.5 billion. This will have a significant impact on quality of life (QoL) and overall health of adults across Europe. We know that adults with hearing loss (HL) report reduced participation in society due to fragmented communication. This includes difficulty following and taking part in conversations or meetings, which can lead to a diminished circle of friends, social isolation and withdrawal.
Effective hearing screening for age-related hearing loss (ARHL) or noise-induced hearing loss is the first step to addressing this. When Governments provide person-centered care that includes speech & language therapy and access to hearing technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, the impact is significant. With hearing loss treatment, adults can increase their ability to communicate with others, which positively increases social activity, volunteer engagement, and paid employment.
Adult Hearing Loss and Barrier to Active Ageing
Untreated hearing loss in adults is linked to a number of comorbidities that affects quality of life and adds significant financial costs to Europe’s healthcare systems.
When hearing loss deprives the brain of stimulation from communication or music, it can speed up cognitive decline and increase the risk of dementia by as much as 8.2%. This makes hearing loss the number one modifiable risk factor contributing to the condition (Livingston, 2020).
Adults with untreated hearing loss are also:
- At higher risk of suffering from dementia
- 33% more likely to rely on others leading to reduced independence and autonomy
- Twice as likely to experience mental health conditions such as depression
- Have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Experience more frequent falls
- More likely to have increased hospitalization rates, entry to assisted living housing, or need social care services.
All these factors increase the pressure on public spending related to ageing, which already accounts for 50% of general government expenditure across Europe.
How can Policy Makers help?
- Raise awareness of the importance of hearing health, the impact of hearing loss and the benefits of hearing loss treatment among the public and healthcare professionals.
- Promote the need for robust national hearing health strategies including diagnosis, rehabilitation, service and maintenance.
- Launch a national over-55 Hearing Screening Programme.
- Acknowledge access to professional hearing care as a right.
- Promote access to effective treatments including hearing aids, bone conduction devices, and cochlear implants.
- Explore and invest in effective methods of prevention and rehabilitation for hearing loss.
- Share best practices among EU Member States.