Hearing loss is the silent burden of Europe’s ageing population

Hearing loss is the silent burden of Europe’s ageing population, writes Ingeborg Hochmair.

By Ingeborg Hochmair

10 Sep 2018

Ingeborg Hochmair 

By 2050, the world population of those over 60 years old is expected to reach two billion. Hearing loss, a condition disproportionately impacting the older population – an estimated 20 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men in Europe by the age of 70 – will increasingly place a burden on our already struggling healthcare systems. 

It risks the onset of other costly diseases and negatively impacts an individual’s overall quality of life. However, compared to many other health conditions, its impact is underestimated and often misunderstood.

MED-EL, a family-owned European enterprise headquartered in Innsbruck, is the technology leader in implantable hearing solutions. Cochlear implants treat those with severe hearing loss. 


As CEO and co-founder of our hearing implant company, I am proud to say that we developed the world’s first microelectronic-multichannel cochlear implant in 1977 and have continued to deliver a series of world ‘firsts’. The product remains the first replacement of a human sense. 

Our continued innovation in treating hearing loss is the result of 30 years of focused research and commitment; we believe this commitment can also be reflected in EU health policy.

Treating hearing loss can help people remain active for longer and can help keep Europe’s healthcare systems sustainable. Across Europe, we see an older population that is more engaged in society than ever before. 

It’s important that Europe’s citizens continue to live active lives with their families and friends for as long as possible as well as contribute to the silver economy. To do this, they need to remain independent.

Unfortunately, failure to treat hearing loss accelerates an individual’s progression into costly facilitated or assisted living, depriving our older population of the opportunity to live their lives to the full.

Our healthcare systems are overburdened because of our ageing population and a rise in chronic diseases. This makes the impact of untreated hearing loss on healthcare systems two-fold.

According to the World Health Organisation, untreated hearing impairment costs Europe €213bn annually. 

In part, this is due to its link to costly comorbidities including cognitive decline and type 2 diabetes, as well as the risk of more frequent falls. Studies show that people with mild hearing loss are almost twice as likely to develop dementia as people without any hearing loss. 

Overall, not only does untreated hearing loss deprive our ageing population of quality of life, its comorbidities increase the demands on our health and social care systems at a time when we need to be making savings.

We urge MEPs to adequately prioritise hearing loss as a public health issue, to raise awareness of the condition and to facilitate best practice sharing of diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and care across member states.

Ultimately, recognising access to hearing care as a fundamental human right, to help Europe age actively.