Charity calls for urgent action to improve access to hearing technologies for older adults

Losing the ability to communicate through hearing loss is one of the least recognised public health issues of our time, storing up a crisis for our health service. This is the warning from The Ear Foundation’s chief executive Sue Archbold on the launch of the charity’s Bending the Spend Report in London on October 13.

National hearing charity The Ear Foundation has called for immediate improvements in treating adults aged over 65 with hearing loss for millions of our older citizens to avoid dementia, depression and reduce the risk of life threatening falls.

The research shows that money for making these improvements could be found from the extensive savings achieved by people depending less on health services and having their hearing loss properly addressed.

Sue Archbold says: “Hearing is one of the most acute unmet needs in terms of the health of older people today as people face a greater risk from health problems and the social isolation of deafness.

“Many older adults who have hearing aids that are no longer effective are unaware they could be considered for the more advanced technology of a cochlear implant. In fact, just 5% of those who could benefit from a cochlear implant are fitted with one.”

Research by The Ear Foundation into the benefits of cochlear implantation shows that over £92 million a year has already been saved in reduced use of GP’s and social work services. “Over the period of the research (1992 – 2009) this represents an overall saving to the public purse of £1.56 billion – more than enough to fund expenditure on hearing services in the NHS for the next three years going forward,” says Archbold.

As a matter of urgency, The Ear Foundation is calling for;

  1. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to review its current guidance on cochlear implantation so that a wider group of adults can benefit;
  2. Better education in the benefits of cochlear implantation for audiologists and GPs to ensure that all those who could benefit can do;
  3. Commissioners to take into account the long-term savings of being fitted with this technology and ensure that as savings are realised they can be invested in extending the service.

Archbold says that action is needed now: “We’re not asking the Government to spend more money, but to reconsider how the money is spent – ‘bending the spend’ away from dealing with the consequences of hearing impairment to addressing the problem at source.

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