Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Cameroon
  Canada
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Finland
  France
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Malta
  Mexico
  Netherlands
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Sri Lanka
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States


   Headlines

Last Update: 26-04-2013  
Related category(ies):
Health & life sciences  |  Success stories

 

Countries involved in the project described in the article:
Austria  |  Belgium  |  Cyprus  |  France  |  Germany  |  Hungary  |  Italy  |  Netherlands  |  Poland  |  Spain  |  Sweden  |  Switzerland  |  United Kingdom
Add to PDF "basket"

Lending an ear to age related hearing loss

Age related hearing loss (ARHL) is far too easily ignored. Its onset is insidious. Its progression gradual. People with declining hearing often mistakenly believe the problem is that their conversation partners mumble or speak too quickly – and as hearing ability diminishes further, social exchanges slowly turn from fluid repertoires to too many non sequiturs. Frustrated from no longer being able to understand others well in social settings, people may stop going to the theatre or senior centres, or even just to a restaurant with friends or family. This social isolation, in turn, is associated with depression and cognitive decline. Disturbances of gait and balance have also been linked to ARHL.

©  Fotolia

Despite the considerable negative consequences ARHL can lead to, it has remained largely invisible, overlooked both by the medical community and broader population. Most people affected by ARHL simply accept it as a natural part of the ageing process and only the severest cases, for which hearing aids are required, get treated. Similarly, research during the past decade primarily focused on congenital hearing loss – which can be successfully treated in around 80 percent of afflicted newborns.

Only in the last five years has this focus slowly begun to shift. According to Professor Ferdinando Grandori from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering of the National Research Council in Milan, Italy, one of the most important factors driving that change are demands made by ageing baby boomers – those born between 1945 and 1965. Baby boomers want to maintain active social lives even in their twilight years, and good hearing is an important part of communication. These people therefore seek treatment not just for serious impairment, but for diminished ability as well.

Screening technologies have advanced to a point where it is possible to detect subtler function loss. More comfortable hearing devices (referred to as open-fit because they do not seal the ear) have also been developed. However ARHL continues to be untreated in many cases, because despite technological advancements and growing demand, there is no general awareness of the condition and its consequences.

To change this, a three-year coordination project, AHEAD III, was launched in 2008. With €1.1 million in EU funding, AHEAD III brought together 18 partners from across Europe. The project aimed to change the type of screening procedures used and to establish when and what tests should be carried out. “We were also coming up with recommendations for governments on how best to implement these screening procedures, so it was very productive to have such an interdisciplinary and international team,” said Grandori, the project’s coordinator.

ARHL is an important issue for European industries as well, since approximately 80 percent of worldwide hearing devices are manufactured in the EU. “Of course these manufacturers were interested in our work, but because of the EU funding we received, we could think about ARHL issues without any direct pressure from manufacturers,” said Grandori.

Before AHEAD III, there was little appreciation of the difference between loss of organ functionality and loss of ability. A typical screening test will have a person listen to a series of whistles to assess their hearing ability. However, hearing impairment cannot be reduced to a diminished ability to hear whistles. That type of screening merely tests hearing sensitivity and thus only gives a partial picture of disability.

The World Health Organization (WHO) model of International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) actually indicates that it is just as important to recognise the lived experience of a condition, as it is to identify its cause. AHEAD III therefore proposed that screening tests should measure difficulties in hearing everyday sounds, such as speech, rather than whistles. Only those types of screening tests offer a complete picture of the lived experience of ARHL.

“These screening tests are fundamental, because the first step of care is identifying those who need it,” Grandori said. Since AHEAD III finished in October 2011, medical experts from around the world, including India and China, have begun to pay closer attention to ARHL. “I am very happy that it was European research which brought international attention to ARHL,” Grandori said. Several pilot adult hearing screening programmes have already been carried out in Europe. For example, on the Greek side of Cyprus everyone who was 63 or older had their hearing screened with tests that assess speech understanding.

As per usual in questions of public health and wellbeing, it will probably take at least another four or five years before governments have devised mechanisms to deal with ARHL. Even now, however, adults suffering from diminished hearing ability can take comfort in the fact that their concerns are no longer falling on deaf ears.

Project details

  • Project acronym: AHEAD III
  • Participants: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Project FP7 200835
  • Total costs: €1 392 132
  • EU contribution: €1 088 190
  • Duration: May 2008 - October 2011

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Project web site
Project information on CORDIS





  Top   Research Information Center