Unidentified and unaddressed hearing loss and ear disease can impact on a person’s development, ability to communicate, education, social wellbeing and economic independence.
Apart from the personal costs, there are significant costs associated with the impacts of unaddressed hearing loss and hearing difficulties, including costs to health, education and employment sectors and lost productivity.
Early identification at all ages, followed by prompt and appropriate management can effectively reduce the impact of hearing loss on the life of an individual. This includes newborn and childhood hearing screening, otitis media related issues, hearing screening in a person’s mid-50s and in aged care settings.
Apart from the personal costs, there are significant costs associated with the impacts of invisible and unaddressed hearing loss, including costs to health, education and employment sectors and lost productivity.
Many people require technological aids and rehabilitative services, but the accessibility and affordability of hearing devices is an enormous impediment for some.
Hearing loss and ear disease can impact on development, ability to communicate, education, social wellbeing and economic independence.
There are significant costs associated with the impacts of invisible and unaddressed hearing loss, including costs to health, education and employment sectors and lost productivity.
Many people require technological aids and rehabilitative services but the affordability of hearing devices is a big impediment for many.
Children with hearing loss and children who are deaf need access to early interventions to ensure the development of language and communication skills. Families need support to recognise signs of hearing loss in early childhood, to help them understand when to seek help, and to encourage them to consider hearing as an important aspect of their child’s overall health (with potential impacts for social and scholastic development). There is also a need to empower families navigating the complexities of hearing healthcare choices with information that is relevant and accessible.* Neonatal and infant hearing screening programs are an effective strategy for early intervention in cases of congenital and early-onset hearing loss. Some children with severe hearing loss may benefit from learning sign language.
People with untreated or developing hearing loss from ages 50+.
Unaddressed hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline and evidence suggests that it can contribute to social isolation, loss of autonomy, depression and dementia, particularly in older adults. To motivate older adults to be actively involved in their own hearing health, there is a need to raise awareness about early signs of hearing loss, how hearing difficulties play out in daily life beyond a simple drop in volume, and to help people appreciate the negative social and cognitive consequences associated with untreated hearing loss. There is also a need to promote regular monitoring of hearing to enable early identification of subtle changes, and to provide trusted and independent information to help guide decision-making about treatment options. *
A lack of recognition and effective management of hearing loss and balance disorders in aged care services is a concern. There is a need to foster the independence and well-being of deaf and hard-of-hearing older Australians.
People living in rural and remote locations.
Supporting hearing health awareness has unique challenges for people who do not live in major population centres. Encouraging greater awareness and use of teleaudiology services, raising the overall profile of hearing health, and providing access to trusted information are the key strategies for supporting these communities. *
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in Australia are made up of people who were born overseas and speak languages other than English. One-third of all Australians were born in other countries and more than 20 percent of Australians speak a language other than English at home.
Access to health and disability supports services is challenging for many reasons including language barriers, working with interpreters, stigma and shame towards disability and health conditions, cultural barriers and attitudes towards the role of caregivers in services, cross-cultural miscommunication, lower health literacy and lower awareness of health services that are available, and difficulties accessing information.
The result of such disparities is underutilisation of services – the Australian Government Hearing Services Program reports significant underutilisation by CALD populations of the services it offers.
For refugees, being proficient in English is a priority and even mild hearing loss will restrict their learning and subsequent access to education, government services and jobs.
Children of refugees
Most children living with hearing loss in Australia have access to the Hearing Services Program which provides listening devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants as well as early intervention programs to ensure their speech and language outcomes are on par with their hearing peers. These children, up until the age of 26 who are Australian citizens or permanent residents, are given every opportunity to access equitable education to ensure employment opportunities in adulthood.
However, children whose parents may be waiting for citizenship or permanent residency – and therefore, do not fulfil Hearing Services Program eligibility criteria – are denied access to the Program and so, their opportunities to thrive in adulthood are much more difficult.
Outcomes for better hearing in Australia.
- Australians who may have hearing impairment or a balance disorder are recognised promptly by their primary health care, early childhood, education or aged care services, and referred appropriately.
- Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and linked diagnostic and habilitative services continue, and the feasibility of a national, life-long hearing database and reporting is evaluated.
- Australian children, particularly those post-newborn to under four years, in regional, remote and low-socioeconomic urban areas, are able to access a state-funded diagnostic audiology service within one month of referral.
- A single, independent, national point of referral for children post early-identification of hearing challenges is maintained.
- Child and adult screening programs are undertaken in a high quality and consistent manner, with data collated in a timely manner and made available to the participants and for wider research.
- Screening programs and government-funded diagnostic hearing services specifically consider the needs and circumstances of vulnerable populations, and are monitored and resourced accordingly.
- Prison inmates with unaddressed hearing loss or ear disease are identified and are connected with the ear health and hearing services necessary for participation and rehabilitation.
- Hearing health requirements are considered holistically and included in other relevant measures such as public health and other regulatory frameworks.
* From Making a noise about hearing: Factors to consider when developing hearing health awareness messages for Australians. Prepared by the National Acoustic Laboratories for the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, May 2020, revised September 2020.