I am a huge Harry Potter fan so when someone recently asked me “What would you do if you were the Minister of Hearing Health,” my head immediately filled with images of wands and other wizardly gear. Could I simply flick my wand and make hearing loss disappear I wondered?
OK. Back to reality.
If I were the Minister of Hearing Health, in charge of all things Hearing Health, what would I do to ease the burden for people with hearing loss? What would my hearing health priorities be?
See my list below and please add your ideas in the comments. Perhaps we can share the final list with the real ministers of hearing health—the governmental and other agencies overseeing support for people with hearing loss around the world.
My Hearing Health Priorities
Hearing loss makes communication difficult, and communication is the glue that binds us to the people and activities that we love. Healthy hearing helps us stay connected to the things that matter to us. When people at all stages of the hearing journey—even those with typical hearing—accept this link, we will see real change. Here’s what I would hope to achieve.
1. Link Healthy Hearing to Overall Health
Hearing loss is associated with many health problems including depression, a higher risk of falls, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Hearing loss is also one of the largest modifiable risk factors for developing dementia. Making this information more widely know is key.
2. Beef-up Accessibility Measures
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 430 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. This number jumps to 700 million people by 2050, impacting 10% of the population. Beefing up accessibility measures like captioning and assistive listening technologies in public spaces, entertainment venues and online, will help keep this growing population engaged.
3. Incorporate Hearing into Routine Medical Care
Why don’t doctors regularly screen for hearing loss? Perhaps they don’t understand the linkages to overall health, or perhaps they are not reimbursed for doing so. Insurance plans and medical school trainings must be modified to put hearing care center stage. We must also learn to understand our role in receiving proper hearing care.
4. Make Hearing Devices of All Types Affordable
Hearing aids are expensive. So are cochlear implants, but at least in the United States, implants are usually covered by insurance. New OTC hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss will help improve access, but overall affordability is lacking. We must expand national health and private insurance plans so they include not only hearing tests, but devices and aural rehabilitation services too.
5. Promote Hearing Loss Prevention
Scientists cannot yet repair damaged hearing, so we must protect it. Health curriculums for students of all ages must teach how and why to protect hearing. Making using hearing protection cool would save millions from the challenges of hearing loss. As would beefed up enforcement of noise protection laws.
6. Support Research into Treatments and Cures
The more scientists learn about how hearing works (and doesn’t work), the more success they will have in developing new cures and better ways to prevent hearing loss. Governments must allocate more funds to support this work.
For more Minister of Hearing Health conversation, listen to this Habits & Health podcast episode where both Gael Hannan and I share our lists. A transcript of the podcast is available at the very bottom of the linked page.
Readers, what would you add to my minster of hearing health priorities?