11 December 2007

British professor: Over-55s should have hearing screened

A comprehensive British hearing screening trial of 35,000 55-74 year-olds found that routine screenings can save the individuals and society from a variety of problems and significant expenses. Large numbers of people live for years with diminished hearing capacity without the benefits of assistive devices. A surprisingly simple screening test was found to be effective.

If all people aged 55 and older received simple routine hearing screening many problems would be prevented, according to Adrian Davis, the British professor and government adviser in charge of the comprehensive study of the hearing screening idea among British seniors.

35.000 Britons aged between 55 and 74 years took part in the study carried out by the Medical Research Council for the National Health Service, NHS.

Large numbers with diminished hearing

Twelve percent, or more than one participant in 10, were found to suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss. Yet, just 3 percent used hearing aids.

The high numbers of people living with hearing loss without assistive devices was not surprising to the researchers. ”We know that on average people live for 10-15 years with hearing difficulties before they present to doctor,” said Adrian Davis. The average age for a first hearing test among Britons is 70 years. At that point, more than half of them already suffer from significant hearing loss.

Living with untreated hearing loss can make people depressed and withdrawn and result in social isolation and problems at work.

Early intervention benefits all

Routine hearing screenings may offer the solution to most of these problems. Early identification and subsequent treatment can improve the quality of life considerably.

Society in general benefits, as well, when people with hearing loss receive early treatment. They become more likely to stay in the labour market, and cost savings result when depressions and other effects of hearing loss are prevented.

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30 second test sufficient

In the long run, routine screenings are a great investment, points out Adrian Davis. The test used in the trial is surprisingly simple. The person being screened listens to sounds at various levels for 30 seconds. This is sufficient to tell whether someone needs a hearing aid or not. Even the researchers were surprised that such a simple test could be so effective.

Adrian Davis believes that routine hearing screenings of British over-55s can be established within five years if the concept receives the necessary political backing. A spokesman for the British Department of Health stated that the Department would take a closer look at the results of the study.

Source: BBC, November 2007

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