Eight organisations have formed The European Coalition on Hearing Loss and Disability and are calling on European policy-makers to help to raise awareness of hearing loss[i]. The members of the coalition are:
- Health First Europe
- The European Federation of Hard of Hearing People
- The European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals
- AGE Platform Europe
- European Association of Cochlear Implant Users
- The European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association
- The Ear Foundation (UK)
- The International Federation of ORL Societies.
According to the coalition, 10 % of the total population of Europe (52 million people) self-report experiencing hearing loss. Of these, 73 % consult a medical professional, but only 50 % are referred to hearing care professionals. Other sources have reported that up to 16 % of adult Europeans suffer from hearing loss that is great enough to have adverse effects on their everyday life[ii].
In their manifesto[iii], the Coalition reports that,
‘Hearing loss is a huge problem for the health of Europe’s citizens, threatening to put huge pressure on Europe’s health and social care systems if left untreated. Innovative medical technology, such as hearing aids and hearing implants, can alleviate the burden. Action from European policy-makers is called to help raise awareness of this condition, look at effective ways of prevention, facilitate access to these technologies where appropriate, improve care and share best practices among Member States’.
The Coalition calls upon the Member States:
- To share best practice on hearing care
- To integrate strategies for hearing care into primary health care systems
- To promote access to hearing devices
- To remove age limits in disability support measures that prevent older persons with disabilities, such as hearing impairment, from enjoying their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
- To promote effective initiatives to improve access to information
- To ensure education and recognition for hearing care professionals in their country.
The Coalition calls upon the European Commission and the Council:
- To take the lead in ensuring the access to professional hearing care is a right
- To support member states to co-ordinate health policies
- To develop a European strategy on hearing loss
- To launch programmes to increase awareness of the effects of hearing loss on everyday life and overall health
- To invest in research on hearing loss.
The manifesto outlines some of the effects of hearing loss, at both personal and societal levels. It also provides references to studies in which interventions have reduced some of these effects.
The World Health Organisation estimates that in Europe the total cost of untreated hearing impairment amounts to € 178 billion each year. These costs are due to health system expenditure, loss of productivity caused by unemployment and premature retirement, societal costs, and costs of educational support for children with hearing loss. Early retirement and unemployment may require an individual to need state benefits. At the patient level, hearing loss can reduce a person’s chances of employment, lead to greater amounts of sick leave and limit opportunities for career progression. Several studies are referred to in which prevention or treatment of hearing loss has reduced a patient’s chance of unemployment.
In children, hearing loss can reduce their ability to learn. However, studies have shown that use of hearing devices, such as cochlear implants, allow greater numbers of hearing impaired children to attend mainstream fulltime education and to reach age-appropriate educational standards.
Hearing loss can also have effects on general health. Hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline such as dementia, depression, becoming dependant on others, and increased risk of accidents. The burden of hearing loss is going to increase as the population ages and the numbers of older people increase. In older people, hearing loss can increase dependence on others, which may accelerate progression into care homes or similar. Lack of independence in older people can also lead to depression and loss of productivity.
Prevention and treatment of hearing loss could attenuate some of the adverse effects mentioned above, and this is among the objectives of the Coalition. National screening programmes and easier access to interventions such as cochlear implants and hearing aids can help to address hearing loss. The WHO recognises the need for screening programmes for groups of people including those exposed to noise in occupational and recreational settings.
In summary, the coalition aims to raise awareness of the adverse effects of hearing loss, including societal costs and personal welfare, and to mitigate these effects by provision of better access to prevention and treatment programmes.
[i] Action from European policy-makers is called for to help raise awareness of hearing loss. Hear-it.org 1 December 2017 https://www.hear-it.org/action-european-policy-makers-called-help-raise-awareness-hearing-loss (Accessed 12 December 2017)
[ii] One in Six Adults Suffers from Hearing Loss. Hear-it.org https://www.hear-it.org/one-in-six-adults-suffers-from-hearing-loss-1 (Accessed 13 December 2017)
[iii] Manifesto on Hearing Loss and Disability The European Coalition on Hearing Loss and Disability. http://www.ehima.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Manifesto-Hearing-Loss-and-Disability-1711-Final.pdf (Accessed 13th December 2017)