A sound investment: The economic burden of untreated hearing loss 

The prevalence of hearing loss in our society should not be underestimated – across Europe approximately 190 million people have some hearing loss or deafness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even more concerning, around 22.6 million people in the EU live with untreated, disabling hearing loss.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of untreated hearing loss comes at a high cost to broader society, as well as at the individual level. Most recent estimates from the WHO suggest that it poses an annual global cost of US$ 980 billion, while in the EU the cost was assessed at €185 billion each year, according to a 2019 study. These costs are in addition to the profound impact untreated hearing loss has on the lives of European citizens. Yet even modest investments in hearing loss prevention and treatment could reduce these costs.

Untreated hearing loss comes with high social and economic costs 

The annual healthcare costs associated with untreated hearing loss in Europe are substantial, and include expenses related to diagnosis and treatment, as well as management of hearing-related conditions such as communication disorders and cognitive decline.

A high prevalence of untreated hearing loss translates to significant lost productivity and unemployment, with decreased workforce participation, increased absenteeism, and reduced job performance common outcomes. This results in significant economic losses for individuals, employers, and national economies across Europe.

The social cost is also significant – individuals with untreated hearing loss often require additional support services and resources, such as disability benefits, rehabilitation programs, and long-term care facilities, contributing to higher social welfare expenditures and placing strain on public budgets.

Short-term cost for long-term gain 

Relatively small investments in the prevention and treatment of hearing loss can have major downstream benefits and result in substantial savings to both social and health budgets. For example, the WHO estimates that ​​hearing aids have a return on investment (ROI) of $15 for every dollar spent globally, and cochlear implants administered in children have a ROI of $2.59. The WHO states that if all hearing care interventions – including early screening, detection and rehabilitative measures such as hearing aids and implants – are considered, the ROI of hearing care is $6.53 for every dollar spent.

A study carried out by the London School of Economics and the WHO suggested that even a 5% reduction in prevalence of hearing loss would reduce global costs by $49 billion. The paper noted the “major economic consequences of not taking action to address hearing loss worldwide”, saying even small reductions in the prevalence and/or severity of hearing loss “could avert substantial economic costs to society”.

A sound investment  

The numbers illustrate clearly that hearing care should not be viewed as yet another budgetary item, but rather a long-term investment in the health and prosperity of individuals, societies and economies. Allocating appropriate funding and resources at the most important points in people’s hearing journeys will not only improve patient health and well-being but also serve to ensure the financial sustainability of healthcare systems.

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