SOUTHAMPTON, UK—In China, the world’s most populous country, an estimated 10% or more of its 1.35 billion people suffer from hearing loss. Yet, only about 1% of them wear hearing aids.
Despite the enormous growth in its economy, China remains largely a developing nation in which hearing care is a luxury available to only a small minority. However, the University of Southampton’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) has recently developed a tool that may serve as a first step toward bringing help to a larger share of hard-of-hearing Chinese.
The tool is a Mandarin Chinese version of a hearing screening test, which in its original English version was implemented in 2005 by the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (now re-named Action on Hearing Loss).
The availability of a telephone-based test enables people to obtain an objective assessment of their hearing ability and hence guidance on whether they should seek professional assistance. While this alone will not ensure that those who would benefit from hearing aids are able to get them, it can at least identify more of those who are in need of amplification.
The Chinese test was developed by Professor Mark Lutman and Dr. Guoping Li of the ISVR. Li predicts, “This project will have a massive social impact in China. There are at least 100 million adults who are hearing impaired and this is the first adult hearing screening test via telephone made available in China.”
HOW THE SCREENING WORKS
The tests present series of three numbers, such as “2-5-9,″ in a background of noise. The person being tested presses the corresponding numbers on the telephone keypad.
Correct responses lead to the noise level increasing, thereby making the test more difficult. Responses that contain mistakes lead to the noise level decreasing, making the test easier. The overall test is designed to determine the highest noise level in which a person can understand the numbers correctly. The test scores reflect a person’s ability to handle the main difficulty that people with hearing loss experience in everyday life: understanding what people are saying in a background of noise.
Lutman, of IVSR, said, “It is expected that widespread use of these tests in China will increase awareness of hearing problems and the availability of solutions, thereby reducing the social, health, and economic burdens of hearing loss. These burdens will increase as the population distribution becomes older unless something is done to mitigate the effects of hearing loss.”
The Mandarin Chinese test is sponsored by Beijing Telecom, Huawei, and Tongren Hospital. A similar test for use over the Internet is being prepared.