Like many, I relish starting the new year with a challenge. Here, dear reader is yours: who, somewhat autobiographically, said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”? The answer, you’ll find, at the end.

And as we begin 2022 with a sense of cautious optimism, I find there are many opportunities to look forward to, as well as plenty of difficulties overcome that we, as an industry, can look back on with pride.

 

THE BEST OF 2021

 

Uplifting sales

We ended a tough year on a high with the hearing instrument market showing a strong recovery from the effects of the pandemic. We’re returning to measurable growth in hearing instrument sales and fittings, with numbers in the private sector in fact exceeding pre-pandemic figures.

Remote made real

BIHIMA members worked with audiologists to swiftly move the fitting, servicing, and supply of hearing instruments online in response to continued lockdowns in 2021. Impressive creativity and technology solutions ensured the delivery of safe clinical services. Although, remote provision was not without some unique complications. Audiologists had challenges others in the medical world did not have to face, such as communicating with someone with hearing loss over Zoom. And yet, the success of the roll out proves they surmounted such challenges and more.

Family empowerment

As part of the increased need for remote provision, 2021 highlighted the efficacy of family centred care. Manufacturers and audiologists alike have been exploring how best to bring the family into the process of setting up, monitoring, and working the technology. By initiating a support buddy system with a family member, remote provision has regained its personal touch. The frequency with which we can now check in has huge implications for providing a truly bespoke experience moving forwards.

Tackling avoidance

Earlier in the year we posed the question: why don’t Brits get their hearing tested enough? We called for annual hearing tests to be mandatory from the age of 55. The latest research shows that, between the ages of 49 and 59, the prevalence of hearing loss in the general population more than doubles. The average gap between hearing tests in those aged 55+ is a worrying 9 years, yet this age group perceive they should be getting their hearing tested every 3 years. So why aren’t they? Read more in our exploratory article here.

Comorbidity research

I was hugely impressed with the work that the University of Oxford and others embarked upon last year, that reinforced the link with hearing loss and dementia, cognitive decline, and isolation. We continue to highlight this growing body of research. Our own research showed Brits are alarmingly unaware of hearing loss comorbidities: less than a third of people in the UK (29%) have any idea at all. In our survey of 2000 UK adults, consumers were questioned about their awareness of the co-existence of hearing loss and other diseases such as dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Read the surprising findings here.

 

NEW FOR 2022

 

Hearing loss / dementia update

Back in 2019, The Lancet produced a widely-read study on the link between the onset of dementia and hearing loss. Now, just published last week, they have updated their findings. It’s a fascinating read, with projections up to 2050 that take into account trends in population growth and ageing.

Eurotrak gets underway

At BIHIMA, we’re excited to be undertaking the UK leg of the Eurotrak survey, despite the machinations of Brexit. This extensive survey questions thousands of consumers on hearing loss, right across Europe. Developed alongside our sister organisation, EHIMA, Eurotrak is the largest comparative multi-country study on hearing loss and hearing aid usage in the world. The UK survey takes place every 3 years and is due to commence in the next few weeks. We’ll be sharing results in Q2 of next year.

Smoother referrals

Throughout 2022, we’ll be building on the suite of tools we launched in 2021 to improve the audiology referral pathway for NHS patients. Last year, BIHIMA worked with the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) to sponsor an educational toolkit for GPs to help improve the audiology referral pathway. Developed by the RCGP, RNID and NHS England, the toolkit aims to support GPs to deliver care for patients with hearing loss. We’ll be reporting on new developments as they happen.

Insightful interviews

We’ll be continuing our series of Audio Infos interviews with BIHIMA members into 2022. Look out for future insightful articles in the coming issues of Audio Infos, helping you stay up to date on the latest technological advances in hearing instrument manufacturing. You can catch up on last year’s interviews here:

Healthcare wearables

Two years with Covid-19 has brought health firmly to the forefront of all our minds. As we navigate potential new strains and further restrictions, maintaining our own health and wellbeing brings a reassuring sense of control. Health wearables continue to rise in popularity with the ever increasing adoption of technology in our daily lives. We have a huge opportunity ahead of us for the next generation encountering hearing loss.

Expertise shared

Our annual survey is underway so please do join our audiologist panel to have your say. The value of your input as audiologists in our decisions as manufacturers is immense and only benefits the end user and the forwarding of this extraordinarily empowering technology. Thank you.

And finally, the answer to my challenge is, of course, Sir Winston Churchill. Whilst fighting Coronavirus on the beaches might be counterproductive, I wish you all an undaunted start to the new year when, as a nation and an industry, we refuse to surrender, to pessimism at least!