A report by Listen Hear! in 2006 found that the real cost of hearing loss in Australia was $11.75 billion. (Access Economics) So it would seem important to find ways to cut these costs. A study commissioned by a number of not-for-profit organisations in Australia released in August 2011 for Hearing Awareness Week, has found that every $1 spent on early intervention of hearing loss results in $2 of savings. (First Voice)
Many of the costs of hearing loss are hidden. Individuals and their families may need to buy hearing prosthetics such as hearing aids, cochlear implants or assistive listening devices like special telephones or personal FM systems and so on. However, these costs are minimal compared with the cost of lifetime specialist intervention or carers such as interpreters. But even then these costs are low when the cost of loss of productivity is considered.
Without good hearing language is difficult to learn and without language education is limited. While interpreters may be available to help in classrooms (and other places) resources are limited and often deaf children only have a few hours per week of classroom help. As a result these children become sidelined and are left behind by their peers. The majority cannot get a good education which follows through to not being able to participate in community or get a good job.
Early intervention ensures that Deaf children acquire language skills and with this they have the chance to achieve a good education, which in turn means they are able to participate in their community, their quality of life improves and they gain better jobs.
The First Voice research found that the earlier a child was diagnosed with deafness and the earlier the intervention started the better the outcomes. Intervention involves individual diagnosis and tailoring the solutions and programs to each child’s need. Some children will use hearing aids while others require a Cochlear Implant. Intensive speech and listening therapy ensures language is attained during the critical first two years of life when these pathways in the brain are developing.
Early intervention is costly and is estimated at about $40,000 per year for around five years and about $2,000 per year to the age of 21, a total of more than $203,000. But First voice maintains that from this cost comes a benefit of around $380,000.
While there may be good economic reasons for Early Intervention, it is my opinion that the greatest benefits are for the individual – things which can’t really have a cost analysis applied to them. Things like good language skills which makes them less different than their peers and gives them equal access to all aspects of life. Quality of life cannot be underestimated and with this comes self esteem – invaluable.
The full First Voice report can be viewed at http://firstvoice.org.au/userfiles/file/First%20Voice%20CBA_Final%20Report%20August%202011.pdf
The 2006 Listen Hear report can be found at http://www.audiology.asn.au/pdf/ListenHearFinal.pdf