Awareness of the connection between hearing loss and serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia, is low in Ireland, even among those with hearing loss, according to a recent global survey on hearing healthcare. The survey to mark World Hearing Day was co-ordinated in Ireland by Hidden Hearing and revealed Ireland’s perception of the associated health risk of untreated hearing loss is low.
Among people already experiencing hearing issues, social isolation was identified by 43% as problematic, while a further 35% identified depression as being connected with poor hearing. However, only 11% of hearing impaired people in Ireland recognised a link between dementia and hearing loss, with similarly low levels of awareness of connections to heart health (9%), stroke (9%) and diabetes problems (7%).
The consumer survey was carried out in ten countries worldwide, across Europe as well as in New Zealand, the USA, Canada and Australia. Globally, those questioned on links between hearing loss and other health issues identified social isolation (57%) and depression (56%) as having the strongest links. These were followed by heart health (25%), diabetes (22%), dementia (20%) and stroke (18%). Levels of awareness of the wider implications of poor hearing were more than double those among people in Ireland with hearing loss.
The hearing healthcare research also included the perspective of relatives of people with poor hearing. Again, limited awareness of the wider implications was reflected in the Irish sample of relatives, who rated social isolation (57%) and depression (43%) as being linked to hearing loss, as well as diabetes (29%), dementia (24%), and stroke (10%). Unusually, not one relative of an individual with hearing loss in Ireland identified heart health as being linked to a hearing problem. Growing volumes of medical research around the world indicate that untreated hearing loss is linked to overall wellness, and can mean a higher risk of heart problems, stroke, diabetes and dementia. Patients with diabetes are more than twice as likely to have hearing loss, according to studies at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the largest biomedical research agency in the world.
Ongoing research in the Medical College of Wisconsin has shown that, because the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow, abnormalities in the cardiovascular system are noted in connection with hearing loss. And older people with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time, than those who retain their hearing, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in the U.S. say. The American Heart Association identified a link too between sudden onset hearing loss and stroke, which is being investigated.
World Hearing Day, held on 3 March each year, is to promote ear and hearing health, and to raise awareness of how to prevent hearing loss. The global survey indicated a poor track record for the Irish when it comes to looking after their hearing health, according to the Hidden Hearing Ireland CEO, Stephen Leddy. “Significant delays in the time taken by individuals to have their hearing tested, and to seek treatment, were identified, combined with a reluctance to use a hearing aid when needed”, he reported. 22% in the Irish survey admitted waiting five years or more before seeking medical help for hearing loss. This was the highest figure in the global sample for treatment delay.
Similarly, only 50% with hearing loss said they had a hearing test in the past 3 years, and 35% did not have treatment, even when a problem was identified. Only 25% in the Irish survey, with mild to severe hearing loss, use hearing aids, whereas the global average is 51%. In countries like the USA and Australia, over 66% with hearing loss use hearing aids. In Ireland however, taking an eye test regularly, recorded at 67%, and wearing glasses or lenses, at 71%, were above the global averages of 53% and 61% respectively. While poor eyesight is something we refuse to live within Ireland, it appears we Irish are more willing to suffer hearing loss, Stephen Leddy of Hidden Hearing Ireland says.
The World Hearing Day survey also examined awareness in relation to general health screening. Worldwide, blood pressure was seen as the number one most important health check for those aged over 50, among people with hearing issues. This was followed by blood sugar and hearing tests. Hearing ranked fourth in Ireland. The perceived importance of health screens saw blood pressure at number one, followed by blood sugar, eyesight, a hearing test and a dental check-up. Because of the potential knock-on effects of hearing loss, Hidden Hearing Ireland regularly collaborates with the Irish Heart Foundation and Diabetes Ireland to provide free screening for hearing loss, heart health and diabetes.
Almost two-thirds of those over the age of 50 in Ireland have high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes is also a growing problem, with over 200,000 already diagnosed, and the estimated prevalence of 6.5% of the population being considerably higher. In Ireland, 1 in 5 adults suffers at least a mild hearing problem. By the age of 55, a quarter of the population has a significant deterioration in their hearing and, by 65, this applies to a third of people. Hearing can be damaged by prolonged exposure to noisy environments and by infections, although, most commonly, it simply deteriorates with age.
A report by the National Council on the Ageing has shown that people with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids can be prone to depression, worry, and diminished social activity. Those whose hearing loss is treated, report better relationships, improved mood, and more independence. Of all the senses, hearing fundamentally affects the quality of life and has important health and safety implications, according to Hidden Hearing CEO Stephen Leddy.
“Hearing loss is a simple fact of life, as we age. But, hearing facilitates communication and social interaction, supporting relationships and routine activities. It also means we can be alerted to danger and more conscious of it”, Stephen Leddy explains.
The 2019 Global Hearing Loss Survey was carried out among adults aged 18 and over, already with hearing issues, as well as family members of those with a hearing problem. The ten countries in which the survey was carried out were Ireland, Portugal, France, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia.
Free hearing testing is available in over 80 state-of-the-art Hidden Hearing clinics throughout Ireland, as the healthcare provider drives home the message that taking care of hearing is essential, not least because life is worth hearing!