World Hearing Day 2021: Hearing care for all!
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Hospitals 03 March 2021

World Hearing Day 2021: Hearing care for all!

Today is World Hearing Day – a global event to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and to promote ear and hearing care across the world.

One in six Australians are affected by hearing loss. As Victoria’s population grows and ages, this number is likely to increase. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital (Eye and Ear) is Australia’s only specialist eye and ear, nose and throat hospital.

We’re working with the Eye and Ear to deliver a significant redevelopment project, with a new five-story building, and refurbishment of existing facilities. The redeveloped hospital will have:

  • eight operating rooms
  • 14 recovery spaces
  • 37 same-day beds/chairs
  • 24 overnight stay inpatient beds.

Stefan Wigg is the manager of the Cochlear Implant Clinic and Balance Services at the Eye and Ear. We spoke to him about his role, the impact of hearing loss treatment, and what the redevelopment will mean for Victorians.

What is your role at the Eye and Ear?

My role is manager of the Cochlear Implant Clinic, General Audiology and Balance Services.

At the Cochlear Implant Clinic, we mainly work with two different age groups: children who may have some hearing or no hearing at all, and older adults who have had functional hearing throughout their life but have developed significant hearing loss over time.

The other part of my role is managing General Audiology and Balance Services. Some balance issues occur because of issues with the vestibular system – which is closely connected with the ear. We have doctors running clinics, as well as audiologists, speech therapists and physiotherapists diagnosing and treating these balance issues.

Why did you choose to specialise in hearing health?

I had a career as an occupational therapist, then moved into management and started managing multi-disciplinary allied health teams.

Occupational therapists have a role to play in balance services. What we do is around reducing the risk of falls for older people. So, it was already an interest area for me professionally. As for cochlear implants, it is such a fascinating area to work in. I’ve been in this role for three years, and I’m still blown away by the impact the technology can have on people’s lives.

The Eye and Ear also has a great culture. We’re a good size, and we don’t have the silos you sometimes see at other organisations. Many people with different skills and experience are involved in the work we do – so everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and help each other. From a personal perspective, it makes it a great place to work, but it also means we see fantastic outcomes for patients.

What are the highlights working at the Eye and Ear?

Hearing loss can significantly impact a person’s social interactions – particularly older people.

As people lose their hearing, they generally attend fewer family gatherings or social events because they struggle to participate. If they also have poor balance, there is a lot of anxiety about going out, or living independently in their own home. But with treatment, patients will tell us about hearing a bird for the first time in 10 years – or being able to have a conversation with their grandkids or socialise again. It’s amazing to have such a positive impact on people’s lives.

The work that clinicians do amazes me every day. With younger patients, it gives them the ability to hear, and the benefits are lifelong. It improves their speech and language development, learning and socialisation. Our treatment of people with dizziness in the balance service can also have a huge impact on their lives – the results are just phenomenal.

How will the redevelopment project improve treatment and outcomes for Victorians with hearing loss/ear disease?

One of the biggest impacts of the redevelopment for patients visiting the Audiology and Balance services will be access to state-of-the-art, purpose-built audiology booths and electrophysiological testing rooms, and a truly multidisciplinary care approach. Once the redevelopment is complete, we’ll be able to offer a much more seamless patient experience.

Being physically located with the ear, nose and throat (ENT) consulting suites we can offer an integrated service within a ‘whole of patient pathway’, purpose-built specialist clinic floor. A patient’s entire outpatient experience from diagnostics to medical review will occur within a few metres of each other rather than spread across different floors or campuses.

How prevalent is hearing loss in Australia?

There’s almost four million Australians that are deaf or hard of hearing. Of that, around 90,000 have severe to profound hearing loss. Hearing Australia has done a great job establishing a pathway for children – any sort of abnormality on a hearing screen gets referred right away. However, older people account for almost 80 per cent of people with severe to profound hearing loss, but they don’t necessarily notice the loss and seek treatment. So that’s the age group we want to connect with more.

When hearing aids are no longer strong enough, a cochlear implant might allow someone to access sounds they have been missing out on for years. Many people don’t realise that cochlear implants are an option for older people as well as young people. About 300 people per year receive a cochlear implant in Victoria and two thirds of them are over 65.

Hearing loss has also been proven to be a modifiable condition that can lead to dementia due to social isolation and a lack of stimulation.

The biggest impact hearing loss has is social isolation. People stop getting out and having conversations and stop connecting with others. With treatment, we can help prevent or delay dementia – so it’s really important to reach out and get treatment.

This year’s theme is ‘Hearing care for all’. How can we all look after our hearing health?

If you notice any changes in your hearing, either sudden or gradual, you should visit your GP or an audiologist. It can be difficult to notice hearing loss, so if people comment on it or you’re struggling to hear conversations in noisy environments – go and get checked out.

People often don’t seek help because they don’t think anything can be done about it. But hearing aid technology has advanced dramatically. And if people are at a point where a hearing aid doesn’t help, there are still other options available.

Prevention is also important. Be aware of safe noise exposure levels and use protection like earmuffs or earplugs in loud environments. Also avoid using foreign objects to clean your ears, including cotton buds. You can talk to your GP or pharmacist about safe wax removal if that’s an issue, there are products to help. There is an old saying we follow: ‘Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear’.

About the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital redevelopment

The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital redevelopment is upgrading the infrastructure of the largest public provider of ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat services in Victoria.

The redevelopment comprises a mix of new build and refurbishment of existing facilities, including the partial demolition of buildings between the two central tower blocks and construction of new connecting link bridges.

Once operational, the lower levels will treat patients and the upper levels will be used for teaching, training and research.

The redeveloped hospital will have eight operating rooms and 14 recovery spaces, 37 same-day beds/chairs and 24 overnight stay inpatient beds.

Structural works were completed in October 2020.

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Last updated: 03 March 2021