The social impact of age-related hearing impairment

Hearing impairment is a common problem that can significantly impact a person’s life. Commissioned by Specsavers, SiRM compiled a detailed report on the most common form of hearing impairment: age-related hearing loss. Based on scientific research, public data on the Dutch population and expert interviews, we conclude that almost 40% of moderately to severely hearing-impaired people are currently untreated. We also estimate approximately 1.3 million mildly hearing-impaired people who are untreated. The associated annual social costs amount to roughly €3.6 billion, increasing to €4.7 billion in the next ten years due to the ageing population.

The Netherlands has 2.6 million people with age-related hearing impairment (>25 dB loss), of which 1.3 million have moderate to severe hearing impairment (> 35 dB loss). The latter are currently eligible for a hearing aid. We estimate that 80% of hearing-impaired people would benefit from regular care from a hearing professional. The remaining 20% either do not need hearing care or require treatment from an ENT specialist or a dedicated audiology centre. Approximately 800,000 people currently wear hearing aids in the Netherlands, indicating that roughly 500,000 moderately-to-severely hearing-impaired people are still untreated.

We estimate that age-related hearing impairment would cost society approximately €5.8 billion annually without the appropriate care. Of this, roughly half is attributable to reduced labour participation and productivity due to the hearing impairment, while the other half consists of (monetised) loss of quality of life (DALYs). In addition, approximately €0.1 billion of the costs relate to early dementia or severe loneliness among the elderly due to hearing impairment.

Including specialist diagnosis and treatment, the annual expenditure on regular hearing care totals €260 million per year. This generates approximately €2.5 billion annually in social benefits. Therefore, the remaining social costs are roughly €3.6 billion annually (= 5.8 + 0.26 – 2.5).

The prevalence of age-related hearing impairment in the Netherlands is predicted to increase to 1.7 million by 2030. In addition, the shifting state pension age will increase the number of working people with moderate to severe hearing impairment by approximately 30,000 (10%), increasing annual social costs to €4.7 billion without additional care. However, this can be reduced by €2.2 billion with regular care.

Lastly, technological developments offer opportunities to serve the growing demand for hearing care. Due to multifunctionality and improved design, the future hearing aid is more attractive for young and old alike.

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