12 March 2018

A major health issue that will only grow: Hearing loss

Under the theme of World Hearing Day – “Hear the future… and prepare for it” – a lunch debate was held at the European Parliament in Brussels on March 6th. The overall conclusion from the debate was that hearing loss is a major health issue that will only grow in the coming years.

Host MEP Renate Sommer (Germany EPP) introduced the debate and opened it by saying that we face a major health issue in Europe when it comes to hearing loss today. Especially in the future, towards 2050, we face a problem as there will be more and more people aged 65+ in the EU in the coming years and at the same time we are living longer and longer.

Vice-president of The European Federation of the Hard of hearing, EFHOH, Lidia Best gave an overview of the earlier lunch debates in the European Parliament and said that it was very important for the hard of hearing in Europe and that hearing loss and professional hearing care should be put on the agenda by the EU and the European Parliament.

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A growing problem - with side effects

The president of The European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals, AEA, presented a series of figures showing how the number of people with hearing loss will rise in the coming years, as hearing loss to a greater extent is age dependent and the number of seniors aged 65+ will rise substantially in the next 30 years. The same is the case with cognitive decline and dementia, which are also age dependent. The risk of dementia increases by 2-5 times with an untreated hearing loss. Mark Lauryens therefore stressed the importance of professional health care, as hearing loss is a modifiable risk factor for dementia and that recent studies have shown that interventions against hearing loss with hearing care eliminates the increased risk.

Shelly Chadha from the World Health Organization, WHO, gave an insight into what the world is about to expect in the next 30 years when it comes to hearing loss. More and more people in the world will have a hearing loss due to an increased population and more and more elderly. In 2050, WHO predicts that around 900 million people will have a disabling hearing loss. To prepare for the future it is important to have strategies to prevent hearing loss and to address hearing loss.

Personal and societal consequences

Professor Hélène Amieva, Inserm, Bordeaux, gave a summary of her recent scientific article based on the findings in a longitudinal study among nearly 3,800 people who have been followed for 25 years. The findings say that untreated hearing loss to a greater extent increases the risk of becoming both dependent on others and developing dementia. At the same time, the use of hearing aids totally eliminates the increased risk of both.

Professor emerita Bridget Shield, South Bank University, London gave an introduction to her coming study about the social and economic costs of untreated hearing loss. The study will document that the costs of loss of quality of life and lost productivity due to untreated hearing loss are very substantial, above 500 billion Euro in the EU each year. To this must also be added increased healthcare costs associated with hearing loss, lost taxes due to lower incomes for people with hearing loss, more welfare benefit payments due to higher unemployment among people with hearing loss and healthcare costs associated with diseases related to hearing loss. The study is planned to be published later in 2018.

Still a sensitive topic

Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of Age Platform Europe said that hearing loss among those aged 50+, which Age Platform Europe represents, is still a taboo and is for many of their members associated with being old, meaning around the age 80 or so. Hearing loss is silent and invisible, and many seniors still keep it to themselves, or are not aware of it. Anne-Sophie Parent also questioned the fact that while professional hearing care to children and young people is taken care of in most EU member states, hearing loss among seniors is more or less neglected and ignored in health policies in many countries.

Appeal to member states

Co-host MEP Heinz Becker (Austria, EPP) ended the debate by summarizing the findings and conclusions and said that as health policy is taken care of by each member state the EU, the European parliament can only appeal to the member states to take the issue of hearing loss and the importance of hearing care seriously as it is a major health issue, that will only grow in the coming years.

The organizations behind the debate

The lunch debate was arranged by the European Federation of the Hard of hearing, EFHOH, Age Platform Europe, The European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals AEA and EHIMA, European Hearing Instrument Manufactures Association.


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