Lifestyle – Preventing and treating hearing loss reduces loneliness

 

For some demographic groups in New Zealand hearing loss has a relatively strong association with loneliness. Pic:newzealandhearing.co.nz

The high prevalence of prolonged loneliness is a problem both within New Zealand and around the world. Loneliness New Zealand is committed to not only highlighting this problem but also discovering solutions for those experiencing loneliness.

To pursue this goal, data was mined from the Loneliness NZ Post-Lockdown Survey 2020, which was administered by Horizon Research in July 2020. This analysis led to the discovery that for some demographic groups in New Zealand hearing loss has a relatively strong association with loneliness.

This finding was significant since both loneliness and hearing loss reduce the wellbeing of many New Zealanders. In any four-week period, about 657,000 New Zealand adults aged 15+ experience loneliness, most, or all of the time; while about 880,000 New Zealanders have hearing loss.

The association between hearing loss and loneliness opened the possibility that by preventing and treating hearing loss we could concurrently reduce the prevalence of loneliness in New Zealand. This possibility is considered in a new report by the Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust. Written by Dr Spencer Scoular, the report finds that the prevention and treatment of hearing loss appears to be an important prevention and intervention for loneliness in New Zealand.

“We have discovered a manageable way of reducing the prevalence of loneliness in Aotearoa – by preventing and treating hearing loss,” Scoular says. “This loneliness prevention and intervention is particularly applicable to adults aged 75+, who frequently have hearing loss.”

Five of the sixteen recommendations in the report are:

  1. Increasing focus on the prevention of hearing loss, at work, at home, and elsewhere.
  2. Clinical testing for hearing loss when people report loneliness to a health professional.
  3. Increasing education on the importance of seeking treatment for hearing loss when it first occurs.
  4. Greater or full funding of treatments for hearing loss.
  5. Increasing the affordability and accessibility of hearing aids in New Zealand, for example, through pooled procurement (like in the UK) and/or over-the-counter hearing aids (which is prioritised by leading health agencies in the USA).

The recommendations of this report are consistent with the findings and recommendations of the first-ever World report on hearing, which was published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week. Their report “calls upon Member States to initiate affirmative action that both includes, and addresses, the needs of those living with ear diseases and hearing loss, as well as the populations at risk of these conditions.”

Preventing and treating hearing loss provides a potentially important means of reducing the prevalence of loneliness in New Zealand – which benefits individuals, their family, whānau, colleagues, and our communities.

ENDS