Raising awareness of hearing loss together with the Hearing Health Forum EU

The topic of hearing continues to live a shadowy existence in the EU. Yet well-functioning hearing is the basis for communication and active participation in the hearing world. The Hearing Health Forum EU is working to make hearing visible.

Carmen Kronawettleitner

The Hearing Health Forum EU (HHFEU) is an association of the EURO-CIU, HEARRING and MED-EL that raises awareness in the EU about hearing loss, comorbidities and the socio-economic and individual consequences of untreated hearing loss.

Cost-effective and equal access to treatment options for everyone in the EU, such as cochlear implants (CI), would not only benefit their individual health, but could also have a lasting positive impact on healthcare systems in EU member states.

The initiative takes care of public affairs at EU level, provides information, organizes information events on various hearing topics and works at political level to give hearing the importance it deserves.

Personal fates cost billions

Gerhard was a successful, financially well-off sales representative. A popular member of the golf club, cheerful and always ready with a joke. But due to his increasing hearing loss, at some point the man in his mid-fifties was no longer able to do his job despite his hearing aids, lost his job and had to accept significant financial losses. The job loss was followed by social withdrawal, as casual social interactions were no longer possible due to his severely impaired hearing. Gerhard fell into depression, which took many months to treat.

Millions of people in the EU share Gerhard's fate. Around 57 million EU citizens live with a limiting hearing loss that is not adequately treated. On average, it takes ten years for those affected to find a solution to their hearing problem. And some hearing loss sufferers do not receive treatment at all. Only a maximum of ten percent of adults who could be helped by a cochlear implant are actually implanted.

What do these figures mean for the EU? Hearing loss that is not adequately treated results in fewer educational opportunities, poorer job opportunities, higher unemployment, early retirement and higher treatment costs for concomitant illnesses such as depression or cognitive decline.

All of this costs money. In the EU, untreated hearing loss costs an estimated 185 billion euros per year.

Hearing loss at a political level

This is where the Hearing Health Forum EU comes in. Its representatives highlight precisely these economic and personal disadvantages at a political level. They provide information about treatment options and campaign for the expansion of hearing health in the EU. Proposals in this regard include, for example, the introduction of hearing screenings in the individual EU member states for over 55-year-olds in order to detect hearing loss earlier, treat it in good time and thus save follow-up costs; follow-up costs that are driven by comorbidities such as depression, dementia, diabetes or a higher need for care; follow-up costs that could be avoided through appropriate treatment of hearing loss, for example through hearing implants.

The Hearing Health Forum EU uses awareness campaigns to raise awareness among decision-makers in EU health policy about the personal and, above all, economic consequences of untreated hearing loss. Events in the European Parliament are aimed at a cross-national strategy for hearing health in which all EU citizens have equal access to suitable treatment. Even within the EU, the possibilities for treatment with cochlear implants, for example, vary widely. While in countries such as Austria or Germany, the costs of bilateral treatment are covered by the state healthcare system even in retirement age, adults in the Netherlands are only paid for a CI on one side. And in some EU countries, a CI for older adults that does not have to be privately financed is a utopia anyway.

Further recommendations to save costs for healthcare systems across the EU and promote healthy ageing in society:

  • Easier access to innovative hearing technologies, including hearing implants
  • Invest in prevention and rehabilitation of hearing loss
  • Right of access to professional hearing health care
  • Raise awareness of good hearing across the EU, educate the general public and hearing specialists about the consequences of untreated hearing loss

The Hearing Health Forum EU is committed to the hearing health of EU citizens - both young and old. ©MED-EL

The topic of ageing is of great importance due to demographic developments in the EU. Nevertheless, the Hearing Health Forum EU is also actively committed to the youngest. Newborn hearing screenings, which have been successfully established in Austria for several decades, are still not mandatory in all EU countries. The HHFEU therefore urgently recommends national implementation.

With its activities, the HHFEU is only at the beginning of its journey: regular information, joint exchange and EU-wide solutions, coupled with the political will for change, to bring the topic of hearing out of its shadowy existence.

And Gerhard? After some initial hesitation, he decided to have a cochlear implant. Since then, he has enjoyed life to the full again, plays golf, has found a new career and tells everyone enthusiastically about his CIs. His depression is a thing of the past and the implants have paid off for the healthcare system. One of many cost-benefit calculations in favor of hearing health, many of which the Hearing Health Forum EU will be able to present to the EU Parliament in the future.

For more information visit https://www.hearinghealth.eu/