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Source: Sunday Morning

In New Zealand, hearing loss affects almost one in six Kiwis. Clinical audiologist Karen Pullar says a sense of stigma can delay people from getting help.

According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 2.5 billion people - or one in four, will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050.

The stats come from WHO's first ever World Report on Hearing, which was released to coincide with World Hearing Awareness Month this month.

In New Zealand, hearing loss is already an issue affecting almost one in six Kiwis, and a sense of stigma can delay people from getting help, clinical audiologist Karen Pullar says.

While hearing aids are considered the most cost-effective treatment for hearing impairment, Pullar says it can take some convincing for those who could benefit from them to give them a try.

"I think there is a reluctance from some people that getting a hearing aid will make them look old, they might remember the hearing aids their grandparents wore, for example," she says. "But these days they are very tiny, very discreet and what's more important is they're very effective."

Cost is another barrier to getting this effective treatment - but Pullar says people need to weigh out the cost versus the value you might get from them.

"A basic pair of hearing aids, bought at a private practice in New Zealand, which is the route most people go, is likely to be around $1000," she says. "The most expensive set of hearing aids with accessories, you might be looking at $11,000 or $12,000."

But there are avenues for assistance for those who need it. Children can be treated for free through the public health system, while adults who are profoundly deaf or have a dual disability often qualify for more support. Financial assistance can also be sought from WINZ, or by applying to charities for help.

"You'll find in the majority of cases, audiologists are able to come up with a solution within the person's budget," Pullar says. "So no one should not get hearing treatment because of financial factors, there's something available for everybody."

The lockdowns and social distancing of the last year have resulted in more people seeking help with hearing loss, especially amongst those who rely on lipreading to fill in the blanks.

"During all our lockdowns and our mask wearing period, there was a huge problem with people not being able to lipread. And the other thing we found during lockdown, is because people weren't beside each other, because they were doing Zoom calls and things like that, once again things became very very difficult for hearing impaired people."

Pullar says that hearing loss can also increase the risk of other conditions, particularly when it comes to mental health.

"There's an increased risk for depression, so often you'll see people with hearing loss, they lose their self esteem, their ability to participate and engage deteriorates, so their confidence goes down."

Cognitive decline is also an issue that can arise over time.

"It's also the energy required to listen, then you don't have the energy to remember things, as much energy to remember things," Pullar says.

"So there's a lot of very good reasons to get your hearing screened, just to check where you're at and take that discussion with an audiologist as to whether or not you need to be doing something about it."