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HEARING WEEK: Who are the disadvantaged and at-risk groups with hearing loss?

February 28, 2017

Prof Suzanne Purdy, the head of speech at Auckland University says that
“Hearing loss creates barriers between people, affecting relationships and how people interact with their world. Hearing loss can hamper children’s learning at school and later in life and affects how people cope in their workplace”.

In New Zealand hearing loss affects all communities, but not to the same extent. Published studies show that in New Zealand Pacific and Māori children have more hearing loss and ear disease than their New Zealand European peers.


A study by a team at Auckland University points to 43 percent of Maori [having hearing loss], compared with 22 per cent for New Zealand Europeans. … (1)

Professor Suzanne Purdy says urgent further investigations and research are needed to find the reasons behind these findings. “We need to find out the causes as the most common cause is shown as “unknown” or it may be genetic. (2)

Aroha Henry, who is of Ngapuhi descent, was recently diagnosed with hearing loss and was surprised to find that hearing aids were affordable.

“When I grew up, we would never have thought to go and get our hearing tested. I thought the ringing in my ears were normal, until a friend suggested I get my hearing tested. I did and the result was that I have hearing loss. The audiologist then explained the types of hearing aids and when we got to costs, I just knew I would never be able to afford hearing aids. Lo and behold when she mentioned the Government subsidy and the cost of entry level hearing aids I realised that I could afford them. This has changed my life and I can now communicate with my friends and whanau. We just never had access to the information about hearing loss, so I really hope people will read this and if you are unsure about hearing matters, go and see an Audiologist. This has changed my life.”


Youth offenders and remandees

Professor Purdy also commented that another high risk group in New Zealand and elsewhere are youth offenders and remandees who have more hearing loss and auditory processing and language disorders than their peers. Research supports the efficacy of treatments such as hearing technology and auditory training but there are too few people getting help for their hearing. Programmes that promote awareness of hearing difficulties and hearing help are needed. Hearing Week 2017 is a good time to learn more about hearing loss and what you can do to help.”

The high rates of hearing loss amongst Māori inmates are consistent with Māori having greater unmet healthcare needs and higher rates of all health risks than other ethnic groups in New Zealand (3) .

Young Māori have also been found to have more hearing loss than their New Zealand European peers (4), and recent studies showed high rates of otitis media and associated complications in New Zealand children, especially those from deprived areas (5).

International evidence suggests youth offenders have greater difficulties with oral language than their non-offending peers. This study examined the hearing, auditory processing, and language skills of male youth offenders and remandees in New Zealand.

In conclusion, language was an area of significant difficulty for youth offenders and remandees. Difficulties with auditory processing were more likely to be accompanied by language impairment in this group, compared with the controls. Provision of speech language therapy services and awareness of auditory and language difficulties should be addressed in youth justice systems . (5)

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[3] Ministry of Health (New Zealand) 2013, Health Loss in New Zealand: A report from the New Zealand Burden of Diseases,  
Injuries and Risk Factors Study, 2006–2016. Wellington

[4] Digby, Purdy, Kelly, Welch, & Thorne, 2014

[5] Greville, 2001; Milne & Vander Hoorn, 2010

[6] Sarah A. Lount, S.A, Purdy, S.C. Handa, L. 2017 Hearing, Auditory Processing, and Language Skills of Male Youth
Offenders and Remandees in Youth Justice Residences in New Zealand