Hearing aids change lives and improve health

New research from Nottingham shows hearing aids change lives and improve health

Ground-breaking research published today (25 September 2017) by a team from the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, led by Dr Melanie Ferguson, shows the life-changing impact of hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Hearing aids have been around since the late 1940s and are widely used to help people to listen and communicate better and to reduce the physical and social impact of hearing loss. But there has been limited systematic evidence of the scale of the benefits of using them. 

Now Dr Ferguson’s research, “Hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss in adults”, published by the internationally-renowned Cochrane Collaboration, concludes that using hearing aids has a large beneficial effect in enabling people with hearing loss to take part in everyday situations and to listen to other people. Hearing aids also have a positive benefit on the person’s physical and mental health.

Dr Ferguson, a Consultant Clinical Scientist who specialises in mild to moderate hearing loss, carried out the research over the last three years collaborating with colleagues in Nottingham, Oxford and Surrey. The research, a Cochrane Review, is recognised internationally as the highest standard of evidence-based health research. Evidence was reviewed from all of the available clinical trials worldwide to determine how much hearing aids benefit people’s everyday life and their health. The studies Dr Ferguson and her colleagues, in particular Dr Padraig Kitterick and Dr Derek Hoare, reviewed involved over 800 people with an average age of 69-83 years.

Dr Ferguson explains that the research provides the clearest and most robust answers to questions as to how far hearing aids change people’s lives:  “It might seem obvious that hearing aids are effective, because they are in such widespread use. They are the main support offered to people with hearing loss to enable them to continue to lead their lives with as little difficulty as possible. But before we did our research there was very little up-to-date evidence to show the level of impact hearing aids have on a person’s ability to hear and communicate effectively or on their general health.

“Our research shows that there is good quality evidence that hearing aids are effective in enabling people to listen better and to participate fully in everyday activities.  There is also evidence that there are benefits to their general health from using hearing aids.  So for the first time we are able to reassure people with mild or moderate hearing loss who wish to try hearing aids that hearing aids should be offered to them, and that using hearing aids have a number of proven benefits on their quality of life.”

The research has been welcomed by leading hearing loss charities, who believe it will help to influence both policy and provision of hearing aid services in the future. Ayla Ozmen, Health Policy Manager at Action on Hearing Loss, said: “This research shows that hearing aids are hugely beneficial to the lives of people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The fact that this affordable, effective intervention has been proven to enable people to continue taking part in everyday situations is extremely important. At a time when many local areas are proposing to cut hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, this research further demonstrates what a vital intervention they are.”

Brian Lamb, Chair of the Hearing Loss and Deafness Alliance, said the quality of research provides certainty for people with hearing loss about the most effective support for them: “Cochrane systematic reviews are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care resources.  This Cochrane review on hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss shows that an objective, transparent and accountable review of the evidence finds hearing aids are effective for mild to moderate hearing loss.”

It is estimated that around 11 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss, a figure that is set to rise as the population ages.  The World Health Organisation estimates that adult-onset hearing loss will be more common than diabetes and HIV worldwide by 2030. People with mild to moderate hearing loss will typically have difficulty hearing quiet sounds, keeping up with conversations, particularly in a noisy environment, and with moderate hearing loss, will experience listening and communication difficulties in everyday surroundings. Hearing loss can also have an impact on general health; it can increase the risks of falls or other accidents and is also associated with an increased risk of dementia.  

This research was funded as part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) support to research into hearing loss in Nottingham. Hearing is one of six areas of clinical research that form part of the new NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Nottingham. The aim of the Nottingham BRC is to translate high quality research into treatments, technology and therapies over the next five years.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

“Hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss in adults” was written by Dr Melanie Ferguson, Dr Padraig Kitterick, Mark Edmondson-Jones and Dr Derek Hoare, from the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre; Lee Yee Chong from the UK Cochrane Centre; and Dr Fiona Barker from the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Surrey.

Dr Melanie Ferguson

Mel is a Consultant Clinical Scientist (Audiology), Honorary Associate Professor and one of the research leads in hearing services at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. Her research programme on mild-to-moderate hearing loss focuses on exploring ways to make things easier for hearing aid users and developing other ways of improving support for people with hearing loss. 

Mel has been head of the Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research (MRC IHR) Clinical Section in Nottingham.  She is currently the Chair of the British Society of Audiology Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, lead examiner for the Research methods and immediate past chair of the BAA Higher Training Scheme committee module. She sits on the Ida Institute International Research Committee and Action Plan on Hearing Loss Research and Innovation and Data Assurance groups. Mel is the NIHR Lead Advocate for Audiology and a full member of the NICE Guidelines Committee on Hearing Loss.

Cochrane Reviews

Cochrane works collaboratively with contributors around the world to produce authoritative, relevant, and reliable evidence, in the form of Cochrane Reviews.
Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care resources. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. They also assess the accuracy of a diagnostic test for a given condition in a specific patient group and setting.

Nottingham NIHR Biomedical Research Centre

The NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) was established in April 2017 to improve the health of millions of people by translating world-leading research into breakthrough treatments, innovative technologies and new medicines.  It is carrying out research into six areas of health:

• hearing;
• gastrointestinal and liver diseases
• musculoskeletal (muscle and joint-related) disease
• mental health and technology
• respiratory (lung) disease
• Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which supports all areas of research

The Nottingham BRC is a partnership between Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Nottingham, supported by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.  It is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) – the research arm of the NHS. It is one of only 20 centres around the country set up to translate research into life-saving treatments for the future.

About the National Institute of Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

Action on Hearing Loss

Action on Hearing Loss is the largest charity for people with hearing loss in the UK.  Find out more at: www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk

The Hearing Loss and Deafness Alliance

The Alliance is a group of voluntary, independent and professional organisations, that represent the needs of children, young people and adults with hearing loss, deafness and tinnitus across the UK on issues related to audiology, hearing services and public health.  Find out more at: www.hearinglossanddeafnessalliance.org.uk