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Initiative to tackle escalating youth hearing loss rates

With hearing loss in teens increasing at an alarming rate, the National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NFDHH) today announces it is fast-tracking the creation of a Youth Advisory Group to support this growing population.

The World Health Organisation says one in five youths 12-35 has a hearing loss, a 30 per cent increase since the late 1990s. And an international study of 12 to 19 year olds revealed a 5.3 per cent prevalence of hearing loss.

However New Zealand’s rates may be double that. An NFDHH pilot study uncovered a 11.96 per cent prevalence, and with rates forecast to skyrocket, the Foundation has stepped in, prioritising its Youth Advisory Group.

NFDHH earlier this year conducted testing at Rutherford College where it was revealed that 23 of the 192 students assessed – approximately 12 per cent – had hearing loss that warranted a referral. The pilot has been expanded and now screening is being rolled out for other secondary schools, to assess the enormity of the issue.

“We know that 90 per cent of people with hearing loss experience feelings of depression, isolation and hopelessness. For teens who are already conscious of fitting in, it’s a worrying issue and could hold back youths from leading a full life,” Natasha Gallardo, NFDHH chief executive, says.

WHO predicts one in seven young people worldwide could be at risk of developing hearing loss due to recreational exposure.

“We want to understand what young people with hearing loss need to be a fully included member of society so we are creating a way to ensure we support these people into work, and through life,” Gallardo adds.

“This will help us form best practises in the workplace, it will help us find engaging ways to educate them on preserving the hearing they have. We can't provide services and support if we haven't identified what their needs are.”

NFDHH is announcing its Youth Advisory Group initiative on the day the foundation marks its 40th anniversary, a fitting time to acknowledge that youths today will be our future leaders in the decades to come.

“Imagine these youths in 40 years – where will technology take hearing aids, what other advancements are necessary to ensure we are inclusive to someone who has hearing loss?”

NFDHH will this year screen Year 9 pupils and track the prevalence of hearing loss over five years. It has completed testing at Rutherford College in West Auckland, is currently screening at Manurewa High School and is scheduling testing at Northland College also.

It has plans to test Year 13 pupils later this year, and some of those students will be invited to join NFDHH-managed focus groups as it looks to create a Youth Advisory Group.

“They will act as mentors to students with hearing loss, we will seek their input for the Youth Apprenticeship Programme we are launching later this year and include their insights in any government lobbying we may do,” Gallardo says.

“We are keen to hear from youths working in leadership or management roles who can share their experiences, we want to start having those conversations. Only then can we advocate for them.

“We can’t wait another 40 years to support these people when they will be immersed their careers, we need to ensure they have all the tools they need as they enter the workforce.”

Gallardo welcomes schools interested in being part of the five-year study to contact NFDHH on 0800 867 446 or 09 307 2922.

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