Identifying and treating hearing loss can be a time-consuming process, often involving numerous return visits to an audiologist to confirm prognosis and fine tune hearing devices.
Some of the research being carried out by the HEARing CRC addresses these challenges directly, for example:
- trainable devices that are controlled by the user, not an audiologist
- supporting healthcare staff in remote areas - providing audiology expertise to isolated communities.
The Australian system
Hearing healthcare services are fragmented between Commonwealth and State based agencies, and between public and private sectors. Currently there is no coordinated overall hearing healthcare or prevention program across Australia, and little association between the health sector for ‘treating’ deafness and the education sector that is heavily involved in remediation. In addition, although Australian Hearing is a Commonwealth Statutory Authority established to provide services to children, pensioners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – hearing healthcare is not listed as a national heath priority and hearing devices are not considered as essential medical appliances.
The HEARing CRC hopes to increase governments' awareness of these issues and was very encouraged by the announcement that all newborn children will be screened for hearing loss by 1 January 2011 [see the Commonwealth Government's media release, June 2009].
Prevention and treatment
There is general acceptance that preventative measures, such as good education, ear protection and information about how to preserve hearing and avoid damage should be readily available and provided as the ‘norm’ in industry. Ear protection can be very discrete in the form of ear plug devices through to large noise-cancelling ear muffs, generally for use in loud environments.
There is a wide range of hearing devices for individuals with hearing loss; the most appropriate type must be determined by the individual through discussion with an audiologist. Prostheses used by people with hearing loss to aid communication include hearing aids (many different types, including bone anchored aids and small discrete in ear devices) and cochlear implants.
The HEARing CRC is focused on the twin challenges of more effective prevention and improved remediation of hearing loss.