Hearing loss and pandemic – a new perspective on the ‘New Normal’
The Covid-19 pandemic as a magnifying glass for challenges and innovations
March 03, 2021– (Innsbruck, Austria) – Curfews, working from home, homeschooling, leisure restrictions and social distancing – these measures place great strain on most people within the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic. For the 466 million people around the world suffering from hearing loss*, the pandemic is particularly challenging. On the occasion of World Hearing Day 2021, this is something worth focusing on. At the same time, the pandemic is accelerating the development of telemedical and digital treatment and rehabilitation provisions, as well as services that will continue to set important new standards for the approach to hearing loss and hearing solutions in the future.
Communication barriers and restrictions
“People with hearing loss face communication and hearing barriers on a daily basis. The pandemic has increased and worsened the situation of social isolation for those affected, especially in countries where masks are mandatory.”, explains Teresa Amat, President of the European Association of Cochlear Implant Users, EURO-CIU.
Hearing loss – even with the appropriate hearing solution – can make communicating with people wearing a face mask highly problematic. In a global survey of users with hearing implants conducted by MED-EL in December 2020 on social media, 79% of respondents stated that they have difficulty in understanding people wearing masks. Among adults, this number was actually much higher (90%) than among children (65%)**. And the transfer of personal discussions, work and education to the digital realm is a considerably greater barrier for people with hearing loss. But those least affected, employers or educational institutions know how these barriers can be overcome. People with hearing loss feel all the more, therefore, that they are unable to participate to an equal extent in conversations, meetings or classes.
Social isolation, with its negative impact on mental health, already constituted the greatest fear for people with respect to hearing loss before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic according to a MED-EL online study. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents fear it as a consequence of hearing loss the most***. This development is exacerbated by social distancing and the transfer of interpersonal communication to telephone or video calls, which are more inconvenient to those with hearing loss.
“During difficult times in particular, we have to stand together against social isolation and hearing loss as a communication barrier and restriction to quality of life. The pandemic has shown that in future, it will not only be those affected themselves, as well as their families and friends, who will need to take innovative approaches to hearing health, but also manufacturers of hearing solutions, ENT specialists, audiologists, clinics with CI programmes and advisory centres, but also hearing aid acousticians and dispensers. For this reason, the appropriate digital conditions must be created, developed and used,” says Dr Ingeborg Hochmair, founder and CEO of MED-EL, on the occasion of World Hearing Day 2021.
Digitisation and innovation
„At MED-EL, the focus during the pandemic is on remote care. A lot of ‘remote care’ options and what the patient can do at home was considered unthinkable before the pandemic or a long way off. Now it is here." explains Martin Hairer, Chief Digital Officer at MED-EL. Today, the entire cycle already takes place digitally, from support in the field of training and further education, indication identification, and digital support for hearing solutions to surgical planning and adjustment. Furthermore, software and services are available to ensure aftercare and rehabilitation from a distance for patients. "However, this is just the beginning. With so many new opportunities to improve hearing health care that this pandemic has accelerated, we will continue to tailor our innovative hearing solutions and services specifically to meet the needs of our users, making them as easy as possible for them to use.“, Hairer continues.
“Despite the fact that we live in a highly advanced time period from a technical perspective with a multitude of innovations on a very frequent basis, it became clear that technology can’t replace everything. Social contacts and interpersonal communication remain basic human needs.“, adds Patrick D’Haese, chairman of the organisation Hear-it AISBL.
For this reason, MED-EL also continues to focus its service offers, such as the HearPeers community and the “MyMED-EL” platform, in order to support people with hearing loss with advice and personal contact. Alongside professional assistance, personal discussion with and practical support from other people with implants is very important for users of hearing implants. The shared everyday experience with a hearing implant, but also sympathy regarding questions, concerns and fears related to implantation, are an invaluable aid, especially at present. These offers are therefore important components in the effort to help people with hearing loss out of isolation and returning their quality of life to them.
Good hearing is a considerable prerequisite for a high quality of life and social participation and reduces the risk of serious secondary illnesses. On the occasion of World Hearing Day 2021, large-scale awareness of the offers and solutions available to those with hearing loss should be ensured in order to avoid social isolation both during and after the pandemic and thus to facilitate a better quality of life. The international day of action is aimed at those affected, doctors and medical specialists – as well as dependants, family and friends – in order to increase awareness of hearing loss and take early action against it.
“On the occasion of World Hearing Day 2021 the campaign ‘Hearing Health for all’ intends that governments include hearing tests for all ages in public health and that the general population becomes aware of it, taking care of our hearing, so that we reach an old age as healthy as possible. Especially now that teleworking, virtual education and video calls have become our daily bread.”, says Teresa Amat, President of EURO-CIU.
*WHO fact sheet “Deafness and Hearing”, 1 March 2020
**MED-EL social media survey, December 2020, 193 participants from 22 countries
***MED-EL study 2019 on WHD