Facts about Deafness and Hearing Loss
1-2 per thousand children are born with a significant hearing loss.
By the age of 14 years, the prevalence of hearing loss is estimated at 4 per thousand, or approximately 3,500 children. The causes of hearing loss may be genetic, due to trauma or illness, or may be unknown.
The HSE estimate that 8% of irish adults (250,000) have a significant disabling hearing loss.
A recent Review of Audiology Services stated:
The effects of adult acquired hearing loss on the individual’s quality of life are often highly significant and may be experienced through loss of confidence, social isolation etc.
Employment prospects may be affected, and isolation in the workplace becomes more common. The economic burden on the family and society may increase significantly. Yet the disability is largely hidden, or unseen, and therefore society tends not to make adjustments to accommodate the effects of the disability.
Overall, given the prevalence rates and the effect on the individual, adult acquired hearing loss represents a major public health challenge.
The World Health Organisation estimate that there are 164.5 million persons of above 65 years with disabling hearing loss, i.e. 33% of the world’s population above 65 years.
This number does not include people with mild hearing loss. As a high income country, Ireland has a lower prevalence of hearing loss of just over half this rate. The HSE estimate that 17% of Irish people aged over 60 have a significant hearing loss, or approximately 130,000 people based on the 2011 census.
Some estimates have put the number of Deaf Irish Sign Language (ISL) users as high as 5,000, with a further 35,000 people using Isl on a daily basis.
The 2011 Census reported that there were only 1,077 Deaf ISL users in the country. However, DeafHear has strong evidence to show that this figure is a major underestimate of the actual number. For example, DeafHear could identify from its own databases 50% more ISL users aged over 70 living in the Leinster region than were identified in the Census. It is likely that one factor in the underreporting of ISL use is the high level of social isolation experienced by many Deaf citizens.
From 2013 onwards, Newborn Hearing Screening Programme will be available throughout the country.
This means that hearing loss can be diagnosed before three months of age, and intervention, such as the fitting of hearing aids, can be completed by six months of age. Research has shown that early diagnosis combined with early family support can enable Deaf and Hard of Hearing children who have no additional difficulties to develop language within the normal ranges for hearing peers. This represents a major improvement in the developmental outcomes for children with hearing loss.
Prior to the introduction of newborn hearing screening, the average age of diagnosis of hearing loss in children was approximately 2.5 years. As a result, the development of many Deaf and Hard of hearing children was characterised by developmental delays in their linguistic, educational and social development.
Approximately 90% of Deaf and Hard of Hearing children are born to hearing parents.
This means that many parents with a newly diagnosed child with hearing loss have little prior knowledge of deafness, and many parents report feeling a sense of shock and helplessness following diagnosis. However, there are a range of supports and information available , including Parents Corner on this website, which can help parents address their concerns over time. Any parent of a Deaf or Hard of Hearing child may contact any DeafHear Resource Centre with their concerns at anytime.
Most children attend mainstream schools, with just under 10% attending schools or classes specifically for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children.
In 2010, the Department of Education and Skills provided Irish Sign Language tuition support to 128 children.
For many people, the onset of hearing loss is a gradual process.
Research has shown that people wait an average of 10 years after the onset of hearing loss before seeking help. This delay is often unhelpful for the individual. It can make the adjustment and habituation to hearing aids more difficult as the person is older and their brain has become used to a reduced sensation of sound. DeafHear estimate that in Ireland only one third of people who would benefit from hearing aids have them fitted. Research has shown that people who have acquired a hearing loss but have not been fitted with hearing aids are twice as likely to rely on formal community supports such as meals on wheels or community nurse visits.
On a positive note, the majority of people who have been fitted with hearing aids report that they have a significantly enhanced quality of life and improved communication with family and friends.
In a survey of older Irish people with disabilities, people with hearing loss were the most socially isolated and had the lowest levels of social participation of any group.
In the same survey, older people identified contact with family and friends as the most important issue for them. Research shows that the health status of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people is well below the level of the general population.
Older people with hearing loss are at increased risk of developing dementia: people with mild hearing loss have double the risk; people with a moderate hearing loss have three times the risk; while people with a severe hearing loss have five times the risk of developing dementia compared to hearing peers.
Some research has also shown that people with hearing loss have more than double the risk of developing depression.
Deafness and hearing loss affect communication in a predominantly hearing world, and communication is a fundamental aspect of human life and wellbeing.
In a large research study hearing loss was found to have a negative impact on the lives of people across a range of quality of life measures, including mental health, social functioning and general health. In fact, only chronic digestive disorders had a greater negative impact on participants: hearing loss was found to have a greater negative impact on quality of life than cancer, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis or diabetes.
An Australian analysis of the economic cost of hearing loss estimated the annual cost at 1.4% of GDP.
The equivalent figure in Ireland is €2.2bn per annum. More than 50% of the costs are borne by the individuals with hearing loss through loss of earnings. Less than 10% of the costs involve treatment and intervention!
The World Health Organisation estimate that up to one third of hearing loss in the world’s population is preventable.
In Ireland, the main causes of preventable hearing loss is noise exposure in the workplace and people listening to music on MP3 players and similar devices at excessive sound levels for extended periods of time.
Research has shown that many young people have already damaged their hearing permanently by listening to music at dangerous levels for long periods.
Surveys show that more than 90% of young people use personal music players. The results are so alarming that one EU study has stated that by 2020 it may be commonplace for up to 10% of 30 year olds to be wearing a hearing aid.
Hearing loss is on the increase due to an ageing population and increased hearing loss in younger people due to noise exposure.
The World Health Organisation has predicted that by 2030 acquired hearing loss in adults will be in the top 10 disease burden’s in developed countries, even more costly than diabetes.