Hearing loss is costing the UK economy more than £1 billion a year according to new research.

This staggering sum, which was revealed in a report by professor Les Mayhew of Cass Business School, City, University of London with support from Specsavers Audiologists, is directly attributable to NHS costs, disability benefits costs, and lost output.

Reducing the financial burden

The report, Listen Up: hearing loss in an ageing society, predicts that the number of workers aged 50+ with hearing loss is set to surge by 56 per cent if state pension age rises to 70 by 2030 as recommended by leading pension experts.

The report also revealed that more than 98 per cent of hearing loss cases can be successfully assisted with hearing aids and other interventions and indicates that the overall financial burden could be reduced.

Professor Mayhew said: ‘There are currently 2.5 million people of working age between 50 and 65 living with hearing difficulties. Without any rise in pension age this would increase to 2.7 million by 2030, however if this age increases to 70, the current figure will grow to 3.9 million.

‘This scale of growth will have a considerable impact on the workplace and is clearly a trend that businesses and health services should prepare for, especially as so much progress has been made in terms of increased life expectancy.

'The higher state pension age rises the more likely people will be to exit the workforce before reaching it due to failing health.’

Equipping the population to work for as long as possible

Professor David Blake, director of the Pensions Institute at Cass Business School, is in agreement with professor Mayhew and said: ‘Given the continuing increase in life expectancy, the state pension age will need to increase to 70 by 2030. This will have a major impact on older workers, but especially those who experience hearing loss or another physical impairment.

'It is vital that health services and employers work together to ensure the older population can continue working for as long as possible to avoid an uncontrollable explosion in health service costs.’

The data, which looked at more than 137,000 test results from hearing tests undertaken at Specsavers Audiologists, showed that only 1.7 per cent of cases could not be aided. This, according to professor Mayhew, calls for better awareness of hearing loss, the services available to those affected by it, and greater vigilance by employers.

He continued: ‘Only those with hearing loss that has a substantial effect on their day-to-day capabilities are likely to be protected at work. But it is vital that structures are in place for those that are needlessly trying to manage mild or moderate hearing loss in the workplace, especially at a time when workforce populations living with hearing loss are expected to increase by more than half.’

Managing hearing loss early

The report also showed that there is a lag of more than a decade between experiencing hearing loss and taking corrective action by wearing a hearing aid, again highlighting a need for increased awareness of hearing services.

Professor Mayhew added: ‘Survey data for England shows that a person initially experiencing hearing difficulties between the ages of 60-64 may not start wearing a hearing aid until well into their 70s.

'Only 12 per cent of people aged 50-54 with self-reported hearing difficulties use a hearing aid but this rises to 72 per cent by age 85 to 89.’

Specsavers' chief audiologist, Gordon Harrison, said: ‘As we are living longer it is crucial that hearing loss is addressed at the earliest opportunity and should not be neglected if we are expected to continue working until the age of 70.

‘The statistics show that hearing loss is on the rise as the population ages, yet people are not equipped with the knowledge or information to manage it effectively. They are waiting until their hearing has deteriorated to a more obvious state before seeking help.

‘Hearing loss deterioration can be slowed if it is addressed early. We recommend that anyone over the age of 55 has their hearing checked once a year, and this is something employers should be aware of and actively encourage in their businesses.’

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