State needs hearing care plan to reduce dementia, depression and social isolation

Mark Byrne

A high rate of unmanaged hearing loss is contributing to increased cases of dementia, depression and social isolation, a charity has claimed.

Chime, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, says the lack of a Department of Health national hearing care plan places ever-increasing strain on already over-stretched services dealing with dementia, depression and isolation.

It has been lobbying the Department to develop a national hearing care plan which will strengthen state support for those dealing with hearing loss, provide a clear pathway on how people can address it, and ensure a regulatory framework for the hearing aid sector.

It estimates unmanaged hearing loss is the cause of 50,000 cases of depression in Ireland. According to a peer reviewed study by medical journal The Lancet, eight per-cent of dementia cases are preventable through early management of hearing loss. 

“One in three of us will have to face the consequences of hearing loss at some point.  It is a hidden timebomb for many,” said Chime CEO, Mark Byrne.

Currently, the HSE provides hearing aids to medical card holders and those aged up to 18, just 25% of those who may need them. 

Depending on location, waiting times can be as long as three years. Chime says over 300,000 Irish adults require some form of hearing aid.

There is no regulatory framework around the private hearing aid sector. Hearing aids cost €3,000 per-pair on average, but a PRSI grant is available.

“Our two-tiered system is totally disjointed and inefficient. The Department of Health must deliver a National Hearing Care Plan now,” said Mr Byrne.

“We are seeking a model of care which encourages people to look after their hearing, with accompanying standards and protocols.

“If you are lucky enough to be able afford hearing aids you enter an expensive, unregulated market with no clear pathway to health.

“There is a real opportunity to reduce health costs and improve quality of life for thousands of people with a clear plan.

“Chime wants to eliminate barriers to seeking help and end the stigma around being deaf or hard of hearing.”

As part of its campaign, Chime will hold hearing screenings for members of the Oireachtas at Leinster House on Wednesday November 8th. 

In 2018, The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), reported that only one in five people who need hearing aids actually have them.

Chime says important and significant health issues around hearing are largely left to chance, and that Ireland has an extraordinarily high level of unmanaged hearing loss. Hearing aid take up here is one third less than the UK, per-head of population.

In 2021, the World Health Organisation called on governments to develop national hearing care plans. It estimated that for every €1 invested, states could expect a return of almost €16 saved over 10 years through greater independence among those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Pictured: Mark Byrne, CEO. Pic Credit: Andres Poveda

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Sarah Brooks

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