Northerners have a 13.5% higher prevalence of hearing loss by age 50 than people living in the South of England, according to a study by the University of Manchester.
The findings were more marked for people between 71 and 80 years old. In the North East of England, the region in the UK with the highest rate of hearing loss for this age group, nearly 50% of people were living with disabling hearing loss, compared with 36% in the South East and 37% in London.
The researchers suggest that hearing loss prevalence is not related to the ageing of the population, as widely believed, but potentially to social and lifestyle differences. The findings are published in the International Journal of Audiology.
Hearing loss is a significant public health concern and affects over nine million people in England. Traditionally, estimates of hearing loss are based on projected population age demographics and audiological data collected in Nottingham and Southampton in the 1980s. This research is vital as it is the first in four decades to provide updated information on the prevalence of hearing loss in older adults in England.
Dr Dalia Tsimpida, from the University of Manchester, explained: ‘It is the first study to calculate the prevalence of objectively identified hearing loss in older adults based on data from a nationally representative sample, and not population demographics, providing the best audiological data in England today.’
Using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), the researchers looked at the hearing health of 8263 participants by examining hearing loss across different age groups between 50 and 89.
The researchers found that the worst hearing health occurred in areas with other economic and social disadvantages, and was unexpectedly weakly correlated with increasing age. The most significant difference in hearing outcomes between the North and the South of England reached 13.5% in the 71 and 80 years old group. Despite there being little difference across the two regions for people aged between 51 and 60 or over 80 years of age, the researchers reported the overall picture as ‘stark’.
Professor Evangelos Kontopantelis, from The University of Manchester and co-author of the study, said: ‘Where people live plays an important role in their health, as the location shapes several environmental risks, as well as many other health effects. Applying a single percentage of prevalence estimates for all regions means that the northern part of the country with a history of socioeconomic and health disparities may be left behind in its needs.’
The researchers believe these findings have significant implications for health policy and planning for health services and suggest that hearing loss prevalence should be calculated based on the populations’ needs and not only on age demographics.