Hearing access specialists
Hearing access specialists

One of the hardest things that I have done recently was to help set the priorities for research into mild to moderate hearing loss. It was a day-long exercise that involved discussion and consideration of 30 short-listed questions in order to whittle them down to a top 10.

A selected group of about 20 people were part of the exercise, including people with hearing loss, family members, representatives from support organisations, and hearing care professionals. As a group, we had a wealth of knowledge and experience covering the full range of perspectives. The importance and responsibility of what we were doing was not lost – this was about influencing research activities for many years to come.

Not surprisingly, some of our individual priorities overlapped but many did not.  This was the real challenge – to understand the reasons behind individual priorities and to weigh things up accordingly.

What I found interesting was how viewpoints flexed and altered as the day progressed and we had the opportunity to hear from each other. As we worked together, it gradually became apparent that some priorities were more important than others.

You might agree with the final top 10 we chose, you might not. After the discussions that took place, I believe each is strong and worthy and that research into all is badly needed.

Here are the top 10 priority questions that we selected:

  1. What adverse effects are associated with not treating mild to moderate hearing loss in adults?
  2. Does the early fitting of hearing aid(s) result in increased patient benefit and/or improved cost-effectiveness of the service?
  3. Does the early fitting of hearing aids slow the rate of cognitive decline?
  4. What are the reasons for low hearing aid uptake, use and adherence?
  5. Can new technologies replace hearing aids?
  6. Can stem cell therapy offer a cure for mild to moderate hearing loss in adults?
  7. Does early identification, diagnosis and treatment of mild to moderate hearing loss prevent further deterioration of hearing?
  8. Could new developments to digital hearing aids offer improved speech perception in noisy environments?
  9. How realistic are hearing tests for assessing the everyday hearing abilities of adults with mild to moderate hearing loss?
  10. Could the use of real-world sounds to help program hearing aids in clinic (rather than tones or beeps) improve hearing aid effectiveness?

The exercise to prioritise questions for research into mild to moderate hearing loss was led by the James Lind Alliance, a non-profit initiative funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  The top 10 priority questions will now be turned into full, descriptive briefs and put forward as proposals for investigation.

The 30 questions that were discussed emerged from a public consultation exercise which resulted in hundreds of questions being submitted. These questions were shortlisted and then a further public consultation took place before the final 30 questions were drawn up.

All questions that didn’t make it into the top 10 list but are confirmed as ‘true uncertainties’ will be held on the NIHR database so they are available to researchers seeking a topic to explore.

You can read more on the NIHR website.

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