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Do you have a hearing loss?

Adrianne Lawson - 03/02/10


Hearing loss is believed to affect about 10.5 % of New Zealand's population (NZ Health Survey, Dept. of Statistics 1992), young and old alike and from all walks of life. Maori people have a higher rate of loss (12.1% compared with 9.8 % for Europeans), and a conservative estimate is that one in three people over the age of 65 experiences the effects of hearing loss.

There are many kinds and degrees of hearing loss which affect people's ability to communicate effectively through speech and there are many causes of hearing loss. These include normal ageing, accidents, disease, congenital abnormality and exposure to continual high level noise. A hearing loss may be mildly annoying, affecting the ability to enjoy the sounds that people with normal hearing take for granted, or it may have a traumatic effect on a person's lifestyle by affecting personal relationships, employment and income-earning capacity as well as general physical health and emotional well-being.

Hearing loss in the elderly is generally related to the ageing process and affects the ability to hear high frequency speech sounds. Hearing aids may help in many situations, particularly in one-to-one conversation where there is not too much background noise.

However, although many elderly people have hearing aids, a great number of those aids occupy a permanent space in a drawer! This may be due to a number of factors such as discomfort from a poorly fitting aid, lack of confidence or knowledge about the use and care of a hearing aid.

The numbers of younger people affected by high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to excessive noise (too much for too long) are increasing. Research suggests that many of today's young people will suffer hearing problems like today's 70 year- olds by the time they turn 40. Teenagers are at risk from listening to loud music. Symptoms of hearing damage include dullness of hearing and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

For more information: www.nfd.org.nz

Hearing Therapists are trained to assist people to manage the impact of hearing loss on their daily lives. This includes working with partners, families, friends or colleagues who may be affected.

They provide a range of services including:

  • initial screen hearing testing to determine the degree of loss
  • referrals to other appropriate professional services
  • pre- and post- hearing aid fitting guidance
  • hearing instrument management
  • communication skills including hearing strategies
  • tinnitus (head noise) management and advice
  • information on the range of assistive devices for television, telephone and other situations.

Public education is an important aspect of the Hearing Therapist's role.
Therapists speak to groups in the community about hearing loss and its prevention and management and provide training to people supporting hearing-impaired adults such as the elderly in Rest Homes.

There are currently 24 practising hearing therapists employed by LIFE Unlimited (a charitable trust) to provide a national community-based, service to people 16 years and over. Services are provided free of charge under a Ministry of Health contract. New trainees undergo a two year training to obtain an NZQA qualification, a NZ Diploma in Hearing Therapy.

To find out if there is a hearing therapist in or near your area contact LIFE Unlimited on 0800 008 011.