Ear health 'vital' as Australians age

06 May, 2014

Up to one in every four Australians could be affected by hearing loss in future as the population ages, Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash has warned.

In her opening address to the 32nd World Congress of Audiology in Brisbane, Nash said hearing loss was common and on the rise.

"Australians experience hearing loss both from birth and through ageing," Nash said.

"In fact, it's estimated that one quarter of all Australians could have hearing loss by 2050."

Nash said between 9 and 12 Australian babies per 10,000 live births had a moderate or greater hearing loss in both ears.

"Around another 23 children per 10,000 will acquire a hearing loss that requires hearing aids by the age of 17 through accident, illness or other causes," she said.

"Sharing of new research, expertise and knowledge through conferences such as this is therefore very important to enable people and nations to minimise the disadvantage caused by hearing loss."

Nash said the Australian government had a long history of close involvement in funding hearing research and support for hearing impaired Australians. The Hearing Services Programme supports access to hearing services to more than 600,000 people each year.

"The incidence of hearing loss and deafness is much higher among Indigenous Australian children," Nash said.

"Sadly, Indigenous Australians experience some of the highest levels of ear disease and hearing loss in the world, with rates up to ten times more than those for non-Indigenous Australians.

"The Australian government is committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and other Australians on ear health as well as other health and social indicators.

"This will take time but we are making progress with valued assistance from hearing practitioners and the medical profession."

Nash said the government also continued to provide funding and support for research and prevention activities targeted to reducing the national longer-term burden of hearing loss.

In the past, government assistance helped to fund research by Professor Graeme Clark which led to the development of the cochlear implant or bionic ear, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of hearing impaired people around the world.