According to the World Health Organization, approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. Projections show that number growing to 900 million by 2050. Undiagnosed and untreated hearing loss often has significant effects on various factors of someone’s quality of life. Because hearing loss is not a visible disability, people with hearing loss tend to ignore their difficulties, and may not recognize the stages of hearing loss.
It is known that people don’t always accurately recognize the early signs of hearing loss. In fact, many Canadians are not aware that they have significant hearing loss. An estimated 54% of Canadians (age 40 to 79) have at least mild hearing loss in one ear, while 77% report not having perceived any loss in hearing.
Studies have shown that even a mild hearing loss can increase the risks of long-term cognitive decline, and even dementia. At this time, hearing loss is considered one of the main risk factors, potentially modifiable by humans, that can reduce dementia incidence. Hearing loss can also be linked to feelings of depression, anxiety, social isolation, and fatigue, as well as leading to an increased chance of falls. Routine hearing screenings can help identify hearing loss early, and help recognize undiagnosed hearing impairment.
What is a hearing screening test?
Hearing screening does not replace comprehensive diagnostic audiometry. It is a quick check that is meant to raise hearing health awareness, identify individuals who may need a full hearing test, and reduce the typical 7-year journey of taking action by engaging people who may be unaware of their hearing loss. Hearing screening is typically fast, and can be easily accessible. It provides either a ‘pass or fail’ result and potentially some high-level information on someone’s hearing health. This is often the first step in a hearing health journey and can reach a wider audience of individuals who are unaware, or have yet to take action on their hearing loss. It can be done online using a computer or mobile device, or through an app or with an audiometer.
A conventional diagnostic hearing test typically includes 6-8 test frequencies, as opposed to a hearing screening which presents 2-5 frequencies. Depending on the background noise of the environment, effective hearing screening may be reserved to mid-to-higher test frequencies as they are more resilient to low-frequency ambient noise, and are often significantly affected with most causes of hearing loss.
Who should be screened?
More people than you might think! The American Speech-Language Association (ASHA) recommends adults to get their hearing checked at least once every ten years up to the age of 50, after which every three years is recommended. Once a hearing loss is detected, annual hearing tests should be performed by a hearing care professional.
All ages of the population can benefit from a baseline hearing screening. In potentially limiting screening to older adults (as some have suggested), we are limited to the preconceived notion that only the elderly have hearing loss. Statistics Canada showed that 14.7% of Canadians aged 20 to 39 years old, and 40.3% aged from 40 to 59 years old, have at least slight hearing loss in at least one ear.
Why is screening adults of all ages important?
Screening younger adults may make them more aware of their hearing health and the importance of hearing tests as they get older. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to educate them on the effects of loud noise exposure on hearing and how to use hearing protection effectively to prevent future damage potentially. Screening older adults can help confirm what they may already suspect, and educate them on the importance of being active managers of their hearing health. Hearing screening can be seen as the first step into someone’s hearing health journey; engaging in the conversation today can reduce the barrier to entry in the future and, as an audiologist, I see the value in this.
Screening is an easy and accessible way to shorten the gap between when people first suspect hearing loss and them taking action.
The results of a hearing screening can lead to different paths. If the screening shows a possible hearing loss, a full comprehensive audiological assessment with a hearing health professional is recommended. This diagnostic evaluation can lead to the individual being fitted with hearing aids, or proceeding to further testing. Some individuals may require further medical investigation and would be referred to a general practitioner or an ear-nose-throat specialist (ENT). For those with normal hearing results, hearing screening might spark new interest in protecting their hearing long-term, as well as serve as motivation for regular hearing check-ups.
Having different end goals than conventional diagnostic audiometry, hearing screening brings forth positive hearing health identifiers that shouldn’t be ignored!
Deafness Prevention. (2020). Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/deafness/estimates/en/
Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Risk of Falling. (2012). Retrieved from Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_three_fold_risk_of_falling
Hearing loss of Canadians, 2012 to 2015. (2016, October 13). Retrieved from Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2016001/article/14658-eng.htm
Hearing Screening. (2020). Retrieved from American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA): https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Hearing-Screening/
Ramage-Morin, P. L., Banks, R., Pineault, D., & Atrach, M. (2019, August 21).
Unperceived hearing loss among Canadians aged 40 to 79. Retrieved from Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2019008/article/00002-eng.htm
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Vanessa is a licensed clinical audiologist who joined SHOEBOX Ltd. in 2019. Her background and skills include diagnostics, hearing aid selection and dispensing, as well as supervision and audiogram reviews for hearing conservation programs. She obtained CAOHC Professional Supervision (PS/A) certification in 2019. In addition, as an In-house Audiologist, Vanessa provides ongoing audiological expertise and support to various departments and projects here at SHOEBOX.