Hearing health is a public health issue and deserves priority status, and the theme for World Hearing Day 2017 on March 3 reinforces this. Entitled “Action for hearing loss – make a sound investment,” the day aims to draw attention to the economic impact of hearing loss and cost effectiveness of interventions to address it. At the Ida Institute, we believe this is an important occasion to remember the fact that hearing health is about more than just how well a person can hear. Their hearing can affect their physical and mental health, the ability to earn and provide for themselves, as well as their social involvement. Hearing loss constitutes a problem for the individual and for society as a whole - and it requires a holistic approach to hearing care to address the problem.
The Ear Foundation in the UK has published several reports underlining the importance of investing in hearing health. The latest of these was ‘Spend to Save’ in 2016, which - in line with the World Hearing Day’s “Make a sound investment” - showed that spending more on hearing care leads to lower healthcare costs.
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) in the USA, released the report, ‘Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.’ The report includes statistics showing that 67%-86% of adults over 50 with hearing loss don’t use hearing aids, and points to links between hearing loss and co-morbidities such as cognitive decline.
A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by audiologist Roy F. Sullivan reflected that hearing aids are “one-third product and two-thirds process,” and that a person will not be a successful hearing aid user just because they have been fitted with a hearing device. Sullivan’s article points to the fact that hearing rehabilitation is about more than just providing appropriate technology. Beyond fitting a hearing aid, it is about understanding the patient’s individual needs, motivations and success criteria and give them confidence in their ability to use hearing technology. This requires a person-centered approach to hearing care informed by thorough knowledge and understanding of the patient journey. “Some of the biggest changes I have noticed with my current patients in the last few years is their confusion about what to do, where to go, and whom to trust,” says Darcy Benson, a clinic owner and member of the Ida Advisory Board. “They form the conclusion that the treatment for hearing loss is all about buying a product and all about cost. They do not come away with any understanding of the concept that hearing care is a part of overall health care nor of the value of the professional component in treating hearing loss. Where is patient-centered care in these models? I believe it is missing.”With so much evidence demonstrating that hearing loss affects people’s health and general quality of life, why are there still obstacles to the uptake of hearing devices?
Listening to patients about their needs and concerns, involving communication partners and suggesting communication strategies are important measures where hearing care professionals can strengthen the counselling process and ensure better patient outcomes. But there is also an important educational element to take into account. Many facts that hearing care professionals take for granted – that hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process for example, or that it can affect your general health – are not as obvious to the general public. This is where the value of WHO initiatives such as World Hearing Day comes in. They help spark a debate and spread knowledge about the implications of hearing loss - both for the individual and society as a whole. This is essential if we are to fight stigmatization and break down some of the mental barriers that prevent people from doing something about their hearing loss. World Hearing Day is not the only initiative launched by WHO that addresses the issue of hearing loss. In May 2017, the World Health Assembly (WHA), which brings together all WHO member states, will discuss a resolution on hearing health. This is the first time in 20 years that a resolution dedicated to this issue will be tabled at the WHA to urge Member States to make ear and hearing care part of their primary healthcare systems. To support the WHO’s advocacy efforts, the Ida Institute is launching a campaign on World Hearing Day 2017 inviting people to take action about their hearing loss. Visit our campaign site to learn more about the campaign and related initiatives.