The British and Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (BIHIMA) has welcomed new NICE guidance on hearing loss.

In particular, the organisation was pleased to see that hearing difficulties “need prompt investigation and treatment by specialist services” and that adults with all ranges of hearing loss (from mild to severe) should be offered hearing devices – specifically “two hearing aids to adults with aidable hearing loss in both ears”.

BIHIMA said such statements provide a clear statement about the efficacy of hearing technology, supporting economic data that shows hearing instruments are an extremely cost-effective solution to “the major public health issue” of hearing loss in England.

Moreover, the BIHIMA members are delighted that NICE has now made an explicit link between hearing loss and dementia, pointing to the fact that there is double the incidence of dementia in people with mild to moderate hearing loss, and the disease is five times more likely in people with severe hearing loss. NICE now also recommends that health professionals should consider referring adults with diagnosed or suspected dementia to an audiology service for a hearing assessment.

BIHIMA has campaigned for more awareness and research into this vital area. The NICE guideline states that “there is no good evidence to show that hearing loss causes dementia or that hearing aids delay the onset or reduce the incidence of dementia”, yet there have been several studies recently which prove the link, including a 25-year study published earlier this year by Professor Helene Amieva, and a Lancet study showing that hearing loss is the greatest of nine modifiable risk factors that contribute to the risk of dementia.

BIHIMA has also recently released an important piece of research into hearing loss in the UK, the Eurotrak report, which showed that although 71% of people said they wished they had got their hearing aids sooner for reasons such as “better social life” and “better mental and emotional health”, only 11% of people were aware of the link between hearing loss and dementia. This seems significant given the increasing evidence demonstrating that social isolation leads to cognitive decline.

BIHIMA regards this as an opportunity for the industry to be united in its call for further research into dementia and hearing loss and the role of hearing aids, in order to increase the awareness amongst the public, and so that policymakers can invest appropriately in the hearing technology which could help tackle one of the greatest public health challenges of our times.

Paul Surridge, BIHIMA Chairman, said: “This NICE guideline helps get the message out there that hearing technology works and we especially welcome the additional detail that two hearing aids, one for each ear, is the most effective approach. It is also one of the first times that a national health body has publicly recognised the connection between hearing loss and dementia - the document even takes tentative steps to highlight the role of hearing technology. We need more research and more public acknowledgements like this, so that we can start tackling the huge societal issue of dementia using the hearing technology we believe could be a vital part of the solution.”