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Audiologists Speak About World Hearing Day 2024

Mar 1, 2024

For Hearing Awareness Week and World Hearing Day, we’re leading a conversation about changing Australia’s mindset on hearing health and improving equity of access to hearing health care particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those living in regional and remote areas. As part of this rethink we caught up with Audiology Australia Accredited Audiologists to get their perspective on this year’s theme ‘ Changing Mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all”.

Learn about this year’s campaign and World Hearing Day (WHD) here.

Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!”, we invited our audiologists to speak about what changing mindsets means to them, the biggest stigmas around hearing health, and what changes need to happen to address ear and hearing care challenges in Australia.

Read from our audiologists in Queensland, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, and Victoria.

Dr Barbra Timmer, President of Audiology Australia

Dr Barbra Timer

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

We know that for many adults with hearing loss, they do not easily discuss their hearing loss with others. Some might feel embarrassed or ashamed, feeling a degree of stigma around hearing loss. Others might think it’s a natural part of ageing, and therefore it doesn’t need treatment. I’d like to see this mindset change. Hearing loss is common and nothing to be ashamed of. There are good solutions available.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting ear and hearing care needs?

Not addressing hearing loss has consequences for people of any age. For children it means they may be impacted in developing speech and language, their school life and study might be impact and this can result in lifelong impacts. For adults unaddressed hearing loss can lead to withdrawing from communication, social isolation, loneliness and depression, as well as other mental health issues. And for everyone, the people they share their life with are also impacted by hearing loss, so interpersonal relationships are also affected.

What is affecting hearing as a health priority for action?

I think that hearing loss is seen as a chronic, but not life-threatening condition. It’s a pity, as it can certainly be a life-changing condition, and it certainly is for children. If hearing loss co-occurs with other health conditions, it can also impact on health outcomes and the ability to effectively communicate with others such as health professionals.

What information or engagement is needed to change the health conversation around hearing health and hearing loss?

I think many GPs think that hearing loss interventions are difficult to manage, or expensive, or ineffective. Hearing solutions have seen a lot of change even in the last 5-10 years and there are many options available to people with hearing loss now. I also think that hearing is not on the radar for many primary care professionals. The focus is often on other chronic health conditions.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

Many adults who have successful audiology rehabilitation outcomes say they wished they had done something about their hearing sooner. I would love for the public to feel it’s as important to help their hearing as it is to help their vision. This means firstly preventing hearing loss where possible and secondly, addressing it when it occurs.

What are the biggest or most frequent misconceptions you have encountered?

That acquired hearing loss is ‘just’ hearing loss. It’s not, it’s a communication loss. Hearing supports spoken communication, and many of us connect to each other through speech. If we develop hearing difficulties, then the way we are connected with others is affected.

What actions does Australia need to take to improve equitable access to hearing ear and hearing healthcare for all?

There are many areas in hearing care where Australia is doing a great job. We have great audiology services, university programs and research institutions. But there are also many Australians who have little to no access to appropriate, culturally safe hearing care. This should not be. Australia has seen terrific initiatives like the Roadmap for Hearing Health, and other resources like the Workforce Summit that plan what must be done to ensure equitable access for all. I’d love to see stronger commitment from government, policy makers and the sector in improving access to hearing care for all.

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Jane MacDonald, CEO HBA and Chair of HHSA

What does this year’s WHD theme ‘mean’ to you?

CEO of HBA and Chair of HHSA, Jane MacDonaldThis year’s World Health Day theme, “Changing Mindsets: Let’s Make Ear and Hearing Care a Reality for All,” provides the opportunity to consider this global health issue, often overlooked. Hearing healthcare around the world is not as accessible as it is in Australia. By shifting mindsets and emphasising the importance of ear and hearing care, this year’s theme invites consideration of the challenges faced by those around the world living with hearing and ear related issues. Promoting ear and hearing care enhances individual well-being and fosters inclusivity and equality within societies. This can be achieved via education, advocacy, and improved healthcare infrastructure. This 2024 WHD theme highlights the importance of ensuring equitable access to hearing healthcare services for all, to advance the goal of universal health coverage, leaving no one behind in the pursuit of a healthier, more inclusive world.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

Barriers to accessing hearing care, especially for marginalised groups like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, and those living in regional and remote locations, include limited availability of services in remote areas, financial constraints, cultural and linguistic barriers, and stigma surrounding hearing loss. Overcoming these obstacles necessitates improving healthcare infrastructure, enhancing affordability and accessibility, promoting culturally sensitive care, and raising awareness to combat stigma. Addressing these barriers will assist reducing delays in diagnosis and treatment.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

The real costs and consequences of not meeting ear and hearing care needs for our First Nation’s peoples, and those living in regional and remote communities are significant. They include decreased quality of life, social isolation, cognitive decline, mental health issues, reduced productivity, economic burden from healthcare costs and loss of productivity, and exacerbation of existing health disparities.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

The lack understanding among healthcare providers about hearing health and when to refer patients to audiologists and audiometrists stems from limited training and awareness. Often it is thought that hearing loss is a standalone issue. To change the conversation, we need to enhance education for healthcare professionals, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and raise public awareness to reduce stigma and encourage proactive management of hearing health.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

Changing public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss requires a multifaceted approach. Key elements include educational campaigns to raise awareness. As part of the $21.2M investment to implement key initiatives from the ‘Roadmap for Hearing Health’, the Australian Government announced in the 2020 Federal budget an investment of $5M for a ‘National Hearing Health Awareness and Prevention Campaign’. This was launched on 8 May 2023. These campaigns can include personal stories to foster empathy, engagement with healthcare professionals and policymakers for support, and integrating hearing health education into school curricula. This holistic approach aims to enhance awareness, break down stigma, promote early detection, and encourage proactive measures for hearing care.

Any famous last words of wisdom?

World Hearing Day provides a focal opportunity to remind us that hearing plays a crucial role in connecting us to the world, enabling communication, understanding, through sound, language, and music. Communication contributes to relationships, safety, and appreciating our surroundings. Equitable access for all is important. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the improved quality of life in my work as an audiologist, a business co-owner delivering clinical audiological services to our regional and rural areas. This is in addition to my role as CEO of the Hearing Business Alliance, the business body representing approximately 155 small-medium audiology businesses, servicing their local communities at more than 660 locations across Australia. My role as Chair of the Hearing Health Sector Alliance ensures collaboration across the HHSA constituencies of Professionals, Researchers, Industry Providers, and -most importantly- those living with hearing and ear-related issues.

 

ACT’s Kim Gordon, Canberra Audiology

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

I think that changing mindsets at the highest levels, e.g. Medicare, DVA, HSP, NDIA etc., is required to see any great change in the field. There are many systemic issues in our field that stem from audiologists not being recognised as a legitimate allied health professional capable of giving valuable advice, not just a salesperson dishing our hearing aids. I would hope that government policy putting greater value on audiology services would then flow on to greater public awareness and access to hearing care in the future.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset about hearing as health priority for action?

Where to start? There are so many! I think that there are misconceptions in the public including how common hearing loss is and that hearing aids are “just for old people” that impact upon how and when people access hearing health care. There is also a lot of confusion and distrust in audiologists due to some unethical business practices that have been highlighted in the media, especially when it comes to hearing aid sales and pricing. People are afraid of being ripped off or given poor advice.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

I think it is purely a lack of training or experience. GPs have so very much to know about and I feel that hearing (as a non-life-threatening condition) falls off their radar. However, our clinic has been providing information sessions to the RACGP and have had wonderful engagement with GPs – they are eager to learn!

Looking into the future, what changes do you hope to see?

I would really hope to see that audiology becomes a registered profession with AHPRA. This would give our profession legitimacy in the eyes of the public and other health professionals, and I would hope that it would discourage unethical business practices that are unfortunately quite common in the hearing aid industry.

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NSW’s Catherine Hart, Hearing Australia and AudA Board Director

What does this year’s WHD theme ‘mean to you?

Catherine Hart

World Hearing Day 2024 focuses on overcoming the misperceptions and stigma often associated with ear and hearing care, by raising access and awareness across the global community including individuals, communities, health professionals, and policy makers. Despite more than 1.5 billion people across the world currently experiencing some degree of hearing loss, hearing health remains poorly addressed and prioritised globally. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that more than 80% of all global ear and hearing care needs as yet remain unmet. World Hearing Day is an important opportunity to raise community awareness about hearing health, and the importance of hearing loss prevention. It also allows us to share information and experiences, and address some of the stigmatising misconceptions often associated with hearing loss and ear health. In doing so we can improve equitable access to timely hearing care for all Australians.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset about hearing as health priority for action?

One in six Australians currently have some degree of hearing loss, and more than 1.3 million of those live with a hearing condition that could have been prevented. Despite this, awareness around the importance of prevention initiatives and hearing screening programs continues to be poorly addressed and misunderstood within the community – often due to stigma and some of the many misconceptions surrounding hearing loss and ear health. Stigma and misconceptions may relate to ageing, the hearing loss itself, and often even extend to hearing aids – hearing aids may be potentially perceived as a visible sign of ageing, and tend to carry more stigma than the use of other types of health aids such as glasses. Stigma is typically one of the main barriers to people acknowledging their hearing loss, and taking steps to access hearing care. Other barriers include things like poor understanding of the various hearing services available and how best to access these, costs, and poor community education and awareness on the warning signs and impacts of untreated hearing loss – such as social withdrawal and isolation, listening fatigue, impaired communication, and reduced quality of life. Untreated hearing loss in middle life has also been associated with increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Heightened public education and awareness programs could lead to increased acceptance of hearing loss, and promotion of hearing loss prevention and safe listening. Improving public access laws, general acoustics, and access to working assistive technology in public buildings would also make these more accessible and could also help reduce some of the stigma and misconceptions around hearing loss.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

There is often a general lack of clarity among healthcare providers around how and when to recommend hearing help, and poor overall awareness of the various funding options available such as the Commonwealth Hearing Services Program and programs such as the NDIS.. An integrated healthcare provider approach is required to ensure hearing screening is prioritised, and hearing care plans are included in national health initiatives and delivered in a person-centred, equitable, and accessible way.. Health providers, policymakers, and the broader community all have a role to play in educating, prioritising, and normalising the importance of regular hearing health checks and timely identification of hearing loss – just as we do with routine eye checks. Family and friends are also important in helping to identify ear and hearing problems, and supporting loved ones to seek help. Greater community engagement will also help change the mindset around hearing and hearing loss.

What are the biggest or most frequent misconceptions you have encountered?

Some of the most common misconceptions relate to hearing aids, in particular the assumption that hearing aids can ‘correct’ hearing loss. In reality hearing aids are simply that – an aid rather than a cure. Hearing aids can only safely give half back of the hearing that has been lost, without risking further damage to the hearing that remains. Hearing aids also work best in quiet situations, ideally within 1.5 metres from the speaker. Other assistive listening devices such as remote microphones can also help in difficult listening conditions such as those involving distance from the speaker, background noise, and/or reverberation. Hearing and communication tactics and strategies can also help optimise hearing device benefit and outcomes. Cochlear implants and other implantable devices may also be suitable for some people, such as those with more significant hearing loss when standard hearing aids may no longer be enough. Another common misconception is that hearing aids are large and bulky, when in fact modern devices are digital, work harder in noise, often offer additional features such as Bluetooth streaming, and are available in multiple styles, colours, and sizes to suit people with various hearing and communication needs. They are also individually set to each person’s type and degree of hearing loss, allow people to stay connected and included, help keep the hearing pathways active, and improve the social, physical, and psychological wellbeing of all people with hearing loss.

Looking ten, twenty or even thirty years into the future what changes do you hope to see?

In the future I hope to see a world where hearing loss is not stigmatised or viewed as a barrier, and where hard of hearing people can achieve their full potential through education, rehabilitation, empowerment, and streamlined access to effective national hearing screening programs. Ideally we will also see more collaboration and cohesion across health professionals, policy makers, and the community as a whole as various health outcomes are improved. Incorporating hearing screenings into regular health checks for older adults will also allow for earlier identification of hearing loss, streamlined referral pathways, and reduce the stigma associated with untreated hearing loss and ageing. Technology improvements and remote care innovations will also continue to evolve, further reducing barriers to quality care and hearing loss and ear health prevention initiatives in Australia and around the world. The introduction of an extended integrated care model across healthcare providers will also reduce barriers to referral, and improve hearing, communication, and quality of life outcomes for all people with hearing loss and their families.

 

NSW’s Yetta Abrahams, Cochlear and AudA Board Director

 

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?Yetta Abrahams

It reflects a commitment on a world stage to prioritize not just intervention for hearing loss but to proactively consider ear and hearing care. It also specifically highlights making that commitment a reality, translating words into actions. This has an importance not only for children and adults around the world and around Australia but also for friends and family.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care in Australia?

There are a variety of tangled barriers for us to unravel to help people to access optimal ear and hearing care. Awareness is a key factor for health professionals and for individuals – awareness of what the experience of hearing health issues can be but also awareness of what action to take and who to approach for help. Increasing awareness at the youngest possible ages around hearing health and the impact of exposure to excessive sound levels is also key. We really need to follow in the footsteps of the success of long term preventions such as using sun screen when we consider hearing and hearing protection.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

Hearing is a social connector. It’s not the only way we can connect but we need to be aware of our hearing health and hearing status to best connect with others. Not meeting the hearing care needs of so many people around the world is effectively disconnecting people from other people; impacting relationships between people.

 What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset about hearing as health priority for action?

The biggest thing that keeps stigma and misconceptions alive is the lack of people willing to share their positive experiences with others (individually or in the media) in relation to preventative and rehabilitative hearing health care. The impact of this is that people only hear the negative stories and see the use of hearing protection as a sign of weakness. More people, including high profile people, sharing personal experiences of hearing health care can only have a positive impact on awareness and understanding.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

For those involved in general health and medical care there is a huge amount to understand and keep up with. Hearing is not life threatening although it ia quality of life threatening. Increasing the general understanding of this in the Australian population will result in more people proactively seeking help in relation to their hearing. Simultaneously, ensuring hearing health care is recommended and funded at all life stages can also help shift the understanding of the importance of hearing on overall health. Hearing isn’t about ears, it’s about the whole brain and more importantly the person and their relationships.

Looking ten, twenty or even thirty years into the future what changes do you hope to see?

I’d love to see hearing health care and intervention have the same stigma and associated attention as vision care. I’d love to see hearing protection or other solutions as a mandatory offering in live music venues and night clubs. I’d love to see that hearing is no longer a barrier to someone achieving whatever they’d like to at any stage of their life.

Any famous last words of wisdom?

Ear and Hearing health care are essential for any society both at a prevention and management level. This is not the domain of a minority group of people; hearing health impacts all of us, perhaps directly, perhaps indirectly or perhaps as a consideration for our future selves.

NSW’s Sam Harkus, NAL and AudA Board Director

What does this year’s WHD theme to you?

Samantha HarkusFor me I think immediately of the huge disparity in Australia between the systems and supports for very young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with hearing loss caused by long term ear infection compared to the fabulous systems and supports we established for children born with hearing loss. We don’t have to look outside our borders to see that ‘ear and hearing care for all’ is not a reality. A key driver behind changing systems is changing mindsets. If we think ‘meh, ear infection isn’t that bad’ then we are failing to understand the implications of babies and toddlers not hearing well for long periods of time. Hearing and listening is how we learn and make connections with others. Being held back in these things has wide and long consequences.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children we are failing at the first hurdle: ear health and hearing checks are NOT routinely undertaken at the health centre for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Doing this every 6 months at the minimum, from the age of 6 months, is absolutely critical because middle ear infection (otitis media or OM) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is silent – usually there’s no pain or fever. Parents and caregivers won’t know until they start worrying about their child’s hearing, behaviour, communication, or balance. Health practitioners won’t know unless they look in ears, check ear drums are moving the way they should be, ask about concerns, and check listening skills seem to be developing ok.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families, the costs are things like: ongoing caregiver worry for their child, communication frustration at home, delays in listening and literacy skills, with flow on impacts for school readiness, engagement, and achievement, and life.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset about hearing as health priority for action?

In relation to the very high rates of OM in Australia for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, unless people have had personal experience or are capable of intuitively understanding the consequences of not hearing well, we collectively fail at imagining these impacts. The consequences of an eye infection that causes low vision in toddlers for months or years is easy to imagine and would stir emotions in many people, but we seem to find it very difficult to imagine the impacts of children not hearing well because of long term ear infection, and how central being able to hear well is (for people who use spoken language to communicate) to our health and wellbeing.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

Well, the health system is complex, and the hearing health system no less so. A ‘spaghetti jungle’, a health practitioner at Derbarl Yerrigan Aboriginal Health Service in Perth referred to it as, a few years ago. This, combined with how individual practitioners prioritise ear health and hearing concerns in the context of a patients’ other needs, are likely to be part of the picture.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

If your hearing is central to how you connect, laugh and love, navigate daily life, and achieve purpose and fulfilment, then this must be part of the message.

What are the biggest or most frequent misconceptions you have encountered?

That ear wax should be gotten rid of! Crazy talk!

What actions does Australia need to take to improve equitable access to hearing ear and hearing healthcare for all?

Implement a locally- and culturally-appropriate, systematic approaches to ear health checks for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in their earliest years.

Looking ten, twenty or even thirty years into the future what changes do you hope to see?

OM occurring for all Australian children at just the normal rates.

 

NT’s Rebecca Allnutt PSM, NT Health

Bec Allnutt

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

Destigmatising hearing loss. I still see clients who feel shame when they are identified with a hearing loss or who have a child identified with a hearing loss. That whole idea of hearing loss being associated with being “dumb” or “not all there” or shameful needs to be stamped out. In some of the Indigenous communities I visit they use the term “ruma ruma” meaning mad one, when quite often the person only has a hearing loss. If we can change the mindset and ideas that having a hearing loss isn’t shameful or bad, then I think more people would be open to having their hearing loss managed either medically or surgically, or with rehabilitation.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

Families are generally involved with multiple visiting services including hearing and can be a bit overwhelmed with seeing different people sometimes on a weekly basis. Hearing loss is the hidden disability and often parents also have a hearing loss and have coped most of their life using other communication strategies, which are often used by their children. I also think as mentioned about the stigma of having a hearing loss is a barrier to accessing services.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

As we know quite often with our Indigenous children, hearing loss due to middle ear disease starts a lot earlier than our non-indigenous children, quite often soon after birth, and they are more likely to have on-going ear problems throughout their early years. This often leads to delayed speech and language especially when English is not their primary language, behaviour issues and learning problems. The long term effects may affect the persons self-esteem and their place in community. With poor education outcomes this will also affect their ability to find employment.

Read our full interview

Read Rebecca’s journey into audiology

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NT’s Prasha Sooful, NT Health

AudA Accredited Audiologist Prasha Sooful

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

I think the theme emphasises the importance of shifting perspectives and attitudes towards ear and hearing care, fostering a collective understanding that hearing health is an integral part of overall well-being. Secondly, it emphasises the need for practical actions to make ear and hearing care accessible to everyone. In the context of my work with the Northern Territory, this means advocating for and implementing initiatives that consider the unique challenges faced by indigenous communities by addressing the disparities in healthcare access that may exist, particularly in remote and underserved areas. This could involve collaborative efforts between healthcare providers, government agencies, and community leaders.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

Some of the barriers are geographical challenges that come with service provision to many remote locations and also a shortage of First Nations audiologists and ear health workers in remote areas. This is one of the aims of the new Master of Audiology course at Charles Darwin University to address these workforce needs.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset about hearing as health priority for action?

There are few things to consider here, firstly the invisible nature of hearing loss and its association with aging. Its not often recognised as a health issue that has serious impacts on language, communication, employment and other areas of life. The societal cost of hearing loss may be underestimated, leading to lack of advocacy for investments. If these misconceptions can be addressed, hearing loss may can be raised in its significance as a public health priority.

Looking into the future what changes do you hope to see?

I hope to see a sustainable workforce for remote communities, including the significant growth of First Nations audiologists and other health workers. With advances in technology, I hope to see accessibility issues for hearing health reduced as well community empowerment and engagement through policy changes for health care equity.

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TAS’s Clare Combey, Hearing Australia

 


What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

The biggest mindsets we need to change are the preconceived stigmas around hearing loss in our society. From the importance of ear health and hearing protection, to understanding and awareness of the difficulties in communication, to the stigmas around hearing rehabilitation and hearing aids specifically. Hearing is often a hidden disability that is too easily ignored and this can limit people’s responses to managing their hearing.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care ?

Definitely stigma, both personal – “I’m not old enough”, “I’ll be fine”, “they just mumble”, and also fear can be a big personal stigma. Whilst societal stigma can lead to hearing loss being viewed as “the least of their problems”, when human communication and connection is such a basic right. I’ve heard all of these views over the years.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

With 1 in 6 Australians with a hearing loss, but only 56% of Australians getting a hearing test compared to 87% having their eyes tested, there are a large number of people who could potentially improve their communication and connections to the people around them. We know for example that you are at a higher risk of experiencing loneliness and depression with a hearing loss, which will obviously really impact your enjoyment of life.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and stigmas affecting Australia’s mindset?

The idea that hearing loss is quite benign, that it only causes embarrassment or annoyance and isn’t as important as looking after the rest of your health is a common misconception. We know that hearing loss is closely linked to many other health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer treatment, mental health and dementia, and on some of these cases, paying attention to your hearing may be preventative or at least alert you to these other changes in your health.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

There is very little time spent learning about hearing loss whilst training in medicine, and it is precisely this reason that hearing related concerns should be referred to an audiologist, just as an audiologist would send their clients on to specialists for treatment outside their expertise. Audiologists are highly trained Allied Health Practitioners with a Masters level Degree, and able to quickly work out if someone needs to have other medical support back with their GP, or if some other hearing support is appropriate. There is no need to for patients to wait for months or years whilst struggling to hear when we can accurately and quickly assess what is happening with their hearing.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

It would be so good if people saw their hearing as equal importance as their eyesight and just had a simple regular check-in with their audiologist. I think that would go a long way to changing people’s perceptions.

What are the biggest or most frequent misconceptions you have encountered?

“I’m getting older, so I have to expect these things.” No, you don’t have to accept the changes in your hearing and you can enjoys your life more with the right hearing support.

What actions does Australia need to take to improve equitable access to hearing ear and hearing healthcare for all?

We already have fantastic funding support for pensioners, our First Nations Peoples, and children/young adults under the age of 26 with permanent hearing loss, but I would also like to see a regular hearing test considered by everyone, even if only every 5 years. Everyone would then have an idea of their baseline hearing levels and would know if there was change over their lifespan that might need attention. Just a half-hour test every 5 years would surely change a huge number of people’s lives (one in 6) and prevent the struggle many people have with enjoying social environments, including workplaces.

Looking ten, twenty or even thirty years into the future what changes do you hope to see?

Every Australian with at least a baseline hearing test what ever stage of life they are in. Such a small thing that might make a big difference in people’s quality of life over those 10, 20 or 30 years.

Any famous last words of wisdom?

Change your mindset and just get your hearing checked- Audiologists don’t bite and it might just change your life too.

 

VIC’s Seray Lim, Arches Audiology

Seray Lim

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

Changing mindsets is one of the hardest things to do. The theme of ‘Changing Mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all’ implies that the current mindset is actually that it isn’t important nor a priority. Which to me as an audiologist, who has worked in rural and remote communities and in Cambodia, and as a mother of a school age child who has hearing loss, is unsettling. So, what I love about World Hearing Day is that it encourages all stakeholders around the world to raise awareness on ear and hearing care and understand the cost of unaddressed hearing loss to individuals’, communities, and societies. It is an opportunity to come together to innovate and create.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

In my opinion, current policies and research bias are the greatest barriers to improving ear and hearing health care, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people. I agree with the research works of Jack DeLacy, Tinashe Dune and John Macdonald that a ‘broader public health lens is required to address the underlying social factors reported to be driving the gap in OM rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.’ The way I see it is that until then, the status quo will remain. What we really need to see is a change in the current mindset of policy makers, research institutions, stakeholders etc towards investing in activities that fill the gaps in our current knowledge, commit more to research with a public health view lens.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

Storytelling is a highly effective way in engaging people and so sharing personal stories can assist in changing public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss. Holding information sessions or talks which includes patient journeys, knowledge sharing, evidence, as well as the real benefits to individuals, may be a way to encourage other health professionals such as GPs, Speech Pathologists, Maternal, Child and Health Nurses to think about a referral to an audiologist.

Read our full interview

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VIC’s Myriam Westcott, DWM Audiology

Myriam Westcott

What do you think is impacting public understanding of hearing health?

Most hearing losses develop gradually and insidiously, affecting the high frequencies but not the low frequencies, which makes it very difficult to self-diagnose.  Apart from denial and a reluctance to acknowledge their hearing loss – issues that are commonly encountered in audiology clinics – it has been my clinical experience that many people attending for a hearing assessment are genuinely unaware that they have developed a mild/moderate level of hearing loss.  Those people attend our clinic for all sorts of reasons – it may be that their significant others have urged them to attend because hearing difficulties can more readily be noticed by those people communicating frequently with the person with the hearing loss. Or maybe there is a pre-employment hearing test required.

Those people with an insidiously developing high frequency hearing loss are therefore not going to report concerns about their hearing to their GPs – because they are just not aware of them.  This will not be solved by the GPs asking their older patients if they have noticed hearing difficulties, as currently included in a checklist of questions asked by GPs of their older patients.   Additionally, because hearing loss first manifests as increased difficulties hearing in background noise, GPs will not themselves detect a mild/moderate hearing loss in their patients in a quiet clinic room.

So a mild or moderate hearing loss will inevitably be overlooked by a large proportion of the population and their GPs.  In ED, often the more dramatic other medical concerns may override awareness of the communication issues around a hearing loss.

The only solution is a hearing screening test for all people over 65/70 years of age, when a hearing loss is more likely to be present.  Given the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia, this is an urgent public health requirement.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

Any message linking the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline/increased risk of dementia needs to be positive – so it’s given in the spirt of preservation of cognitive health.

But I think the issue of the difficulty of hearing loss self-diagnosis needs to be strongly pushed as well, and I haven’t seen this done at all.  People will often ignore a message if they don’t think it applies to them.

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VIC’s Keith Chittleborough, Earman Audiology

Keith Chittleborough

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

To me, World Hearing Day 2024 means that I have an opportunity to reflect. To ask myself, not what should others do, but how can I do better? To take personal responsibility—not for my industry—but for myself. And maybe, through these shared and fumbling reflections, I can provide a little space and inspiration for my fellow colleagues to do the same thing.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

Even in my backyard, in suburban Melbourne, our typical patient with age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is extremely ‘remote’ from the hearing aid shop on the street corner a block from their house if they never actually enter the clinic’s doors.

Why? Why do those suffering from presbycusis take so long to enter our clinic doors?

I think one reason is fear.

Fear of being judged by others, but also the fear of the truth. Finding that hearing declines, that we age and—ultimately—that we are mortal. I doubt most of you have heard of this word: thanatophobia. It is the fear of death.

Is this the whole story? Of course not. People are complex, and fascinating. I keep tyring to understand them better.

Looking into the future what changes do you hope to see?

From a clinical perspective: the word audiologist becoming synonymous with ear expertise, all performing wax removal, the first point of call when a patient thinks ‘hmm, what’s up with my ears?’ To this end, we’d see a referral funding pathway shakeup, with some simple tweaks like the capacity for audiologists to refer directly to ENTS, and Medicare rebates for diagnostic audiology without the redundant GP referral. They do it for eye tests, why not ears?

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WA’s Kathleen Stoop, Wanslea Limited

AudA Accredited Audiologist Kathleen Stoop

What does this year’s WHD theme mean to you?

I see the theme as a challenge to make ear and hearing health everybody’s business. This involves not only redefining professional roles but also reimagining service delivery models to meet the diverse needs of communities.

The includes advocating for a community-centred approach: emphasising the importance of community involvement in promoting ear and hearing health, and ensuring that services are tailored to meet the specific needs of different cultural groups. It also means accessibility and affordability: acknowledging the need for ear and hearing care services to be accessible, affordable, timely, and culturally appropriate for everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status or geographical location.

What are the biggest or most frequent misconceptions you have encountered?

There are two:

  1. Hearing Loss as a Behavioural Issue: The misinterpretation of hearing loss as a behavioural problem in children is a significant barrier to early intervention. Symptoms of hearing loss, such as difficulty following instructions or being easily distracted, may be mistaken for behavioural issues rather than indicators of sensory impairment.
  2. Perception of Hearing Loss as an Age-Related Issue: Many adults perceive hearing loss as a condition that only affects individuals in old age and therefore may not consider seeking intervention until later in life. This misconception may lead individuals in their fifties or sixties to believe they are “too young” for hearing aids.

Any famous last words of wisdom?

Making ear and hearing care a reality for all requires collaboration among healthcare professionals, policymakers, advocacy groups, and the community. By working together, we can create a future where ear and hearing healthcare is accessible, personalised, and focused on promoting optimal health and well-being for all. But it all begins with making ear and hearing health everybody’s business.

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