One in six people has a significant hearing loss but many people are unaware they have a problem, according to Professor Piers Dawes, the Director of the UQ Centre for Hearing Research.Professor Piers Dawes, the Director of the UQ Centre for Hearing Research
‘Hearing loss tends to be less common in younger adults but, after the age 50 or so, it becomes increasingly common. It's one of the leading causes of years lived with disability globally,’ Piers says.
Yet, despite hearing loss being very common, it takes a long time for most people to realise they have a problem because it develops gradually over many years. Cue blaming family and friends for mumbling.
‘Often the first signals that you're having hearing problems are when your friends and family are complaining that you're turning the TV up really loud or when you’re struggling to communicate with them and you think that everyone else is mumbling and not speaking clearly,’ Piers says.
‘So, quite often it's the person's friends and families that first notice the issue and motivate somebody to get help for their hearing.’
Hearing care is a healthy lifestyle choice. Optimising your hearing health is a way of maintaining an active social lifestyle.
The stigma attached to hearing loss as a marker of ageing, which itself stigmatising, can also cause some people to delay seeking help as they fear they will have to wear a bulky hearing aid. Piers says that idea needs to be turned on its head.
Hearing loss can have a major impact on the person, and their loved ones, as they begin to withdraw from social and occupational opportunities as communication becomes more difficult and frustrating.
‘Then it can have knock on effects on general health and mental wellbeing — if you're not going out and enjoying a healthy, active social lifestyle, you might be more prone to anxiety and depression and chronic health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes that can follow from being less active, less socially engaged,’ Piers says.
Researchers are even investigating a link between hearing loss and dementia.
The good news is that there are treatments available. Unsurprising, hearing aids are the most effective and there have been major advancements over time.
‘Now they're really very unobtrusive and comfortable to wear. You can get hearing aids that will interact with your mobile phone and you can stream music and take telephone calls and you can use them as a step counter — all sorts of technology are integrated with hearing aids, if you want that sort of thing,’ Piers says.
Seniors with a concession card are eligible for a free, base-level hearing aid via the government hearing services program and can choose to pay more for a more expensive model.
Communication training, which is available through Australian Hearing, can help with tools including learning to lip read (though Piers cautions that lip reading is not foolproof, as different sounds can look the same, causing confusion).
‘Communication training helps you understand the impact of hearing loss and provides strategies to mitigate the impact of hearing difficulties, like paying attention to the person's face and body language, telling people you have a hearing loss, getting them to rephrase, sitting with your back to the wall and avoiding noisy situations.’
There are also a range of assistive devices that can help with specific listening challenges, such as alarms that flash when your doorbell is ringing.
‘If you don't want to wear a hearing aid to wear all day and your problem is just with hearing the TV, you can get an amplifier that will amplify the TV signal so you hear it without having to have it blaring for the rest of your family.’
For people with severe hearing loss, cochlear implants (a surgically implanted hearing device) can dramatically improve hearing.
Whilst there is currently no cure for hearing loss, Piers’s take home message is that it is important to face up to your hearing difficulties and seek solutions that can improve your ability to communicate, rather than literally suffer in silence.
- provides free government hearing tests and hearing aids for pensioner concession card holders
- represents Australians who live with hearing loss.
- Helps people with hearing loss to make and receive phone calls.
- Supports people with hearing loss and their families.
- Check the for discounts on Audiology and hearing services.
Reviewed 22 February 2023