Regional patterns and trends of hearing loss in England: evidence from the English longitudinal study of ageing (ELSA) and implications for health policy

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Background: Hearing loss (HL) is a significant public health concern globally and is estimated to affect over nine million people in England. The aim of this research was to explore the regional patterns and trends of HL in a representative longitudinal prospective cohort study of the English population aged 50 and over. Methods: We used the full dataset (74,699 person-years) of self-reported hearing data from all eight Waves of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) (2002–2017). We examined the geographical identifiers of the participants at the Government Office Region (GOR) level and the geographically based Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). The primary outcome measure was self-reported HL; it consisted of a merged category of people who rated their hearing as fair or poor on a five-point Likert scale (excellent, very good, good, fair or poor) or responded positively when asked whether they find it difficult to follow a conversation if there is background noise (e.g. noise from a TV, a radio or children playing). Results: A marked elevation in HL prevalence (10.2%) independent of the age of the participants was observed in England in 2002–2017. The mean HL prevalence increased from 38.50 (95%CI 37.37–39.14) in Wave 1 to 48.66 (95%CI 47.11–49.54) in Wave 8. We identified three critical patterns of findings concerning regional trends: the highest HL prevalence among samples with equal means of age was observed in GORs with the highest prevalence of participants in the most deprived (IMD) quintile, in routine or manual occupations and misusing alcohol. The adjusted HL predictions at the means (APMs) showed marked regional variability and hearing health inequalities between Northern and Southern England that were previously unknown. Conclusions: A sociospatial approach is crucial for planning sustainable models of hearing care based on actual needs and reducing hearing health inequalities. The Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) currently responsible for the NHS audiology services in England should not consider HL an inevitable accompaniment of older age; instead, they should incorporate socio-economic factors and modifiable lifestyle behaviours for HL within their spatial patterning in England.

Original languageEnglish
Article number536
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2020


  • ELSA, inequalities
  • Health geography
  • Hearing loss
  • Social epidemiology


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