Adults take time to seek sound advice

Published: 11 September 2013 at 15:20

Anglia Ruskin research finds that nine out of 10 people struggle on with hearing problems

Nine out of 10 adults in the UK delay seeking help for their hearing problems, according to research carried out by Anglia Ruskin University.

Hearing loss has been identified as the third most prevalent chronic disability among older adults, surpassed only by arthritis and hypertension, but many wait over 10 years before seeking specialist help to have a hearing aid fitted.

The study found that 92% of those surveyed had delayed seeking advice for their hearing problems.  Of these, 20% had delayed for between four and five years, 19% had delayed for between six and 10 years, and 7% had put off seeking help for longer than 10 years.

Those under 70 years of age were more likely to have sought advice sooner (less than 10 years), compared to the over 70s, while on average men took slightly longer than women.

The reason most commonly given for delaying taking action was that the participant felt they could hear “well enough” in most situations.  Other factors included embarrassment, the acceptance of hearing loss as a normal part of ageing, failure of GPs to refer and “other priorities”.

The survey found that hearing loss is most often apparent to an external observer before the individual had become aware, probably due to the gradual onset of most hearing impairment, and 79% of respondents were prompted to seek advice by a family member, most commonly their spouse or partner.

The research was led by Dr Maryanne Maltby, Senior Lecturer in Audiology at Anglia Ruskin. Dr Maltby said:

“Hearing loss has been shown to have a huge impact on an individual’s physical, emotional and social life.  Studies have shown that it can lead to depression, isolation, fatigue and irritability.
“Life expectancy is increasing and, with increased age, the incidence of hearing loss is also likely to increase.  Early diagnosis can reduce the impact of hearing loss, including social isolation and mental health issues, but currently only a small fraction of hearing-impaired adults actively seek assistance and those that do take many years to do so.
“There is clearly a stigma attached to having a hearing aid, which isn’t the case with people wearing glasses.  However, hearing aids are no longer as bulky and obtrusive as they once were, and in some cases it is possible to manage hearing problems without having to fit a hearing aid.
“Increased screening, perhaps by linking hearing tests with eye tests, and more advertising might help to raise awareness of the direct and indirect problems associated with hearing loss, and the importance of seeking help sooner rather than later.”

The research, which surveyed 512 people attending private audiology practices in the UK, has been published by the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists.