November 29, 2007

Research funding into deafness in the UK is around only one-thousandth of the estimated lost productivity from hearing impairment. This and other deafness-related issues are highlighted in an editorial in the November 24 edition of The Lancet.

At a recent conference organized by The Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID), productivity losses related to hearing impairment were estimated to cost the UK £13.5 billion (US$28 billion), whereas just £16.5 million (US$34.2 million) is invested annually.

The editorial says: “Because hearing loss is commonly of gradual onset, more prevalent with age, often results in stigma, and makes people prone to isolation, estimates of burden are difficult to obtain and usually conservative. Results from a recently published UK study showed that 12% of adults aged 55-74 years had substantially impaired hearing, which on average had been present for a decade. Yet only 3% used a hearing aid, suggesting widespread unmet need.” The 278 million people worldwide (WHO estimate) that have a disabling hearing impairment could increase in parallel with aging populations to 700 million by 2015 and 900 million by 2025. Two thirds of those affected live in developing countries.

The most prevalent form of hearing-loss, presbycusis, is age-related, but influenced by genetic predisposition, cumulative acoustic trauma, and metabolic factors. However, hearing impairment is not confined to old age. A quarter of the UK’s 9 million hearing-impaired people are aged 16-60 years, for whom poor hearing limits their quality of life, as well as educational, social, and employment opportunities.

The editorial concludes: “Hearing aids can help relieve symptoms, but further interventions are needed to prevent, delay, or reverse hearing damage…Although the many determinants of hearing make research complex, successful strategies would have not only a large and lucrative market, but also great social value.”

SOURCE: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS