Currently 10 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss, a number rising with an ageing population; the charity Action on Hearing Loss estimates that by 2031 there will be more than 14.5 million people in the UK affected by some form of hearing impairment.
Despite these projected figures response from policy makers has been slow, if limited. Compared with other diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, hearing impairment gets relatively little attention, and charities like Action on Hearing Loss have called for more research and awareness.
Raising the awareness of hearing impairment is crucial, particularly for those later on in life. Approximately 90% of people over the age of 80 have some form of hearing impairment. In older adults, hearing loss can have a significant impact on quality of life and mental wellbeing; and if left untreated can affect social interactions resulting in social isolation. The management of hearing loss is important in the effective management of other associated conditions as it’s often experienced alongside other long-term health conditions such as dementia, diabetes and sight loss.
The prevention and early diagnosis of a hearing impairment is imperative in reducing any negative impact it has; however currently there are no national screening programs for the over 65s. Some charities have called for the government and public health bodies to recognise the importance of such screening programmes in reducing the impact of unmanaged hearing loss.
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is helping to raise the profile of research into hearing impairment. The ELSA wave 7 study includes self-report questions on hearing and for the first time an objective assessment of hearing measured through the HearCheck screener.The screener assesses the audibility of pure tone beeps as a measure of hearing impairment. The HearCheck screener has so far been used on a small scale and has been validated against other audiometric tests.
Unlike other specialist surveys, new data on hearing impairment can be combined and analysed with other existing ELSA data; e.g. long-term health conditions and disabilities, social care, social circumstances, mental wellbeing and financial status.
The wave 7 data will be available from Spring 2016 from the UK Data Services.