The theme of World Hearing Day 2017, “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment”, draws attention to the economic effects of the issue. According to the World Health Organisation, “unaddressed hearing loss poses a high cost for the economy globally” and yet “interventions to address hearing loss are available and are cost-effective”.
It is easy to hear stories about the impact of hearing loss on people’s lives and assume that the extent of the problem stops with each individual. But hearing loss presents a cost to communities and to the whole of society which is less understood and must be taken seriously.
Certainly, a recent NHS report painted a stark picture of the economic impact of hearing loss in the UK. The World Health Organisation estimates that in the UK adult onset hearing loss will be in the top ten disease burdens, above diabetes and cataracts, by 2030. And the cost to the NHS will only increase given the ageing population and the rising number of older people who will have hearing loss in the future.
Then there is the effect on employment figures. The UK economy loses £25 billion a year in productivity and unemployment, with 30% of people of working age with severe hearing loss unemployed. Those with severe hearing loss who do not use hearing aids have unemployment rates nearly double those who do.
Finally, there is cost of treating and managing related illnesses: in the UK, older people with hearing loss are 2.5 times more likely to develop depression than those without hearing loss, and twice as likely to develop depression.
Two of the WHO’s strategies for mitigating the economic impact of hearing loss – screening for early identification, and rehabilitation through hearing devices – have been championed by BIHIMA members in the UK in recent months through our support of a cost effective national screening programme for over 65s, which we believe would promote greater access to the life-changing technology developed by our members.
Moreover, the preventative approach recommended by the WHO resonates with our recent call for a “new normal” attitude to our ears – our determination that the hearing health of society is given the same level of attention as our teeth and eyes, which current guidance recommends checking at least every two years.