Hearing facilitates our ability to communicate and learn, to monitor our environment and to enjoy our lives. We begin to hear even before birth and hearing impacts our quality of life well into our senior years. Yet hearing loss is one of the most common congenital disorders and is the most common acquired communication disability in the adult population. It is the most prevalent sensory disorder affecting Canadians. Annually, 6-8 of every 1000 children are born with, or soon acquire, permanent hearing loss significant enough to impact educational and social development. Over 70% of children experience middle ear disease and fluctuating hearing loss before the age of 2. Listening disorders, such as Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), impact 7% of our children contributing to academic failure and reduced participation in group-related activities. In adults, over half of the senior population lives with hearing loss bringing with it distress, social isolation, loss of independence and reduced quality of life.
Hearing loss places a direct economic burden on the health care system and an indirect burden arising from losses of productivity, costs for caregivers, and additional educational and support service costs. In Australia, Access Economics (2006) estimated that the financial cost of hearing loss was equivalent to 1.4% of the GDP. A 2007 US study estimated hearing loss could have an average $12k annual impact on families. Yet with early identification and intervention many of the potentially debilitating effects of hearing loss can be avoided. New technologies in assistive listening devices and implantable prostheses, advanced diagnostic techniques and evidence-based intervention protocols are rapidly changing our ability to identify and treat hearing disorders.