World Hearing Day: Audiologists encourage New Zealanders to act on hearing loss for a happier life

March 3 marks World Hearing Day, an annual campaign to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote both ear and hearing care worldwide.

The global initiative, launched by the World Health Organization, marks a great opportunity to get your hearing checked - wherever you are in the world. 

However, New Zealanders are not leading the pack when it comes to looking after their lugholes. According to new research commissioned by ear-care experts Audika, more than half of New Zealanders (53 percent) believe they have some degree of hearing loss - yet only one in four intend on scheduling a hearing test. 

Hearing loss was also found to be one of New Zealanders' biggest concerns when it comes to ageing, just behind forgetfulness. The survey found 45 percent of participants are fearful of hearing loss as they grow older, which is significantly higher than the global average of 35 percent.

The research, which surveyed 24,000 people across 14 countries, also examined the health and happiness of those who wear hearing aids compared to those who don't, pre-and-post testing. 

The research reveals the importance of diagnosing and managing hearing loss in order to live happier and healthier lives, with 41 percent of New Zealanders with hearing aids saying they live a happier life following their diagnosis. Nearly one in three also reported improved relationships, and one in four said they had experienced a "life-changing" difference.

Despite the results suggesting hearing loss is more widespread than we might think, the survey indicates that New Zealanders are not taking the appropriate action to look after their hearing, with only one in four planning a hearing test in the next 12 months. Comparatively, 39 percent said they intend to get an eye test in the same period. 

Furthermore, the primary health concerns for Kiwis are memory loss and dementia, according to 68 percent of participants - yet 85 percent are unaware of the associated risk between hearing loss and dementia. Treating hearing loss early - before or during midlife - is one of 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia, as recognised by a landmark 2020 study in The Lancet.

Meanwhile, it's estimated one in four people worldwide will be living with hearing loss by 2050, but as many as a third will be undiagnosed and untreated.

"Hearing loss shouldn't be about ageing. The results indicate that those who sought help for their hearing reported being happier, leading more satisfying lives, and had more fulfilling relationships," said trained audiologist and Audika's senior regional sales and operations manager, Michael Severn.

"By contrast, The Lancet study highlights the risks associated with hearing loss on one's cognitive health."

The new global survey was undertaken to support Audika's latest initiative, 'Love your ears', a nationwide campaign calling on New Zealanders to get their hearing tested to improve their overall quality of life.

The data demonstrates that treating hearing loss can have a positive impact on relationships. While many New Zealanders who wear hearing aids would previously pretend to hear better than they could (37 percent), since treating their hearing loss, more than half (51 percent) now enjoy better conversations.

Additionally, more than a third say they now feel more connected to their family and there is less stress in their relationship.

"The upsides are clear - those in the research sample fitted with a hearing aid reported many improvements in relationships and communication with their family," Severn said.

"We need to be kinder to our ears, because you can reduce your risk of hearing loss."

To reduce the risk of hearing loss, Severn recommends keeping the volume at a lower level when wearing earphones or headphones, wearing ear protection when directed, and getting tested regularly and from an early age.

In recognition of World Hearing Day, Audika's audiologists are encouraging all New Zealanders to "love their ears" and take a free online hearing check. The likes of New Zealand Hearing, Bay Audiology and Audika offer free online hearing tests that provide an immediate insight into the status of your hearing.

"We must take our hearing loss more seriously, and there are accessible ways to stay more in control of your hearing health," Severn said.

"Taking a free hearing check and wearing hearing aids can help you listen better, feel more connected and improve your quality of life."

The survey was conducted by the YouGov analysis institute, a private research group. A total of 24,041 people aged 18 and over across 14 countries were interviewed from December 2 to 28, 2021, including 1703 New Zealanders.