Getting our numbers right on hearing loss

STATISTICS

Getting our numbers right
© Paffy - 123rf

As the number of surveys increase and the countries grow, the EuroTrak reports start to provide meaningful data. This database can be compared, contrasted and correlated with European Union statistics to start to paint a more meaningful picture of hearing loss, hearing aid adoption, use and satisfaction. Three European hearing organisations have collaborated to take to a look at the bigger picture and to make sure we are getting our numbers right.

A report has been published that is intended to provide a Europe wide strategy to ensure professionals, enduser groups and other interested parties have numbers that are evidenced and can be relied upon. The report, titled, ‘Getting our numbers right on Hearing Loss, Hearing Care and Hearing Aid Use in Europe’ has been jointly produced by three European groups – AEA (European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals), EFHOH (European Federation of Heard of Hearing People and EHIMA (European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association). The document highlights some of the issues. When discussing the number of people with hearing loss and the impact of professional hearing care, there are a lot of different definitions used, which makes comparisons difficult. Marcel Bobeldijk, EFHOH President said, “The report is a very important culmination of our discussions on making sure the language and statistics are consistent in our work with external stakeholders.” For their research for the report, the groups used the EuroTrak results for seven European countries (UK, France, German, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, and Denmark), information from EFHOH, AEA and EHIMA on hearing aid sales and usage along with the Eurostat data.

Correlation of statistics

The report highlights the very strong correlation between the EuroTrak results on self-reported hearing loss with the EuroStat data on the 65+ population. The higher the percentage of the population that are over 65 years the higher the percentage of the population that experiences hearing difficulties. In Europe 18.5% of the population is 65 years or older and the average across Europe of people with self-reported hearing loss is 10% - 52 million people (Fig1).

Self-reported hearing loss and population's age

The Germans and Italians are more likely to say they are not hearing as well as they used to (12.1% and 11.7% respectively) and both countries have the highest percentage of over 65s – 21.4% in Germany and 20.8% of the population in Italy.

From this data, the report authors were able to estimate the prevalence of self-reported hearing loss across 29 European countries. (Table 1) The numbers that emerge from this are in line with figures that EFHOH have previously published across countries (France 6 million, Germany 9 million). The table has the UK at 7 million, a figure that is lower than the number published by Action on Hearing Loss of 11 million people with hearing loss in 2015.

Accessing hearing care

Using the data from seven EuroTrak reports that cover 9,205 people with self-reported hearing loss, there are interesting points to note. Despite acknowledging they have an issue with their hearing, only 73% of people speak to a medical professional about their hearing. Of those that do speak to a GP or ENT specialist, only 70% are referred on. 76% of these purchase hearing aids. (Fig2)

Drop-out table for hearing loss treatment

Seven years?

The joint report from AEA, EFHOH and EHIMA questions the frequently published figure about people waiting seven years between noticing they have a hearing problem and visiting a hearing professional. The report refers to a Laureyns et al study from 2015 at the Thomas More University College in Antwerp that asked hearing aid users in four countries about this topic. 266 users from Belgium, Germany, Italy and Israel revealed at 53% visited a hearing care professional between 0 and 5 years after they realised they had a problem. However, some of those questioned waited up to 40 years. The report authors state, ‘You will notice that this is not a normal distribution, so therefore we should stop using the average of seven years. (Fig 3)

Years before hearing aids

EuroTrak 2015 data also supports this. When people were asked how many years it took for them to acquire hearing aids, the majority said they waited 1 or 2 years after realising they had a hearing problem.

Whilst these numbers paint a more positive picture of hearing care, the authors counsel caution as this stage is only the beginning of the process, “Customer satisfaction, active use and impact on overall quality of life are the true goals that matter.”

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Read the complete article on Audio Infos UK #109, accessible for subscribers at Audiology Worldnews Kiosk. How can I subscribe?

Victoria Adshead, editor in chief of Audio Infos UK