asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) whether national figures reflect the finding of the West Midlands regional health authority that 56 per cent. of elderly people in the region who have heating difficulties have no hearing aid; and whether his Department is taking any action to encourage people' to seek help for hearing difficulties before they become very elderly and so less susceptible to successful treatment with an aid;(2) if he will give his best estimate of the proportion of those over 65 years of age who have hearing difficulties; and if he will give details of any research studies there have been into the reluctance of the elderly to use hearing aids and the follow-up problems encountered by those who do so.
Recent surveys have shown that the prevalence of hearing impairment among elderly people had previously been underestimated and it is known that large numbers of people who could benefit from an NHS hearing aid do not have one. The full extent of the problem at national level is not known, but the MRC institute of hearing research is carrying out a large scale epidemiological study of adult hearing impairment in this country which, among other things, will produce comprehensive and up-to-date estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of hearing loss in the elderly population. The Department is awaiting the results of this study with great interest. Recent research supported by the Department into the problems of hearing impaired elderly people include a study completed in 1978 of the problems of the elderly in dealing with a particular series of hearing aids and one completed last year which looked at the social aspects of deafness. Current research in this area includes studies evaluating the work of hearing therapists and the use of volunteers in the follow up of people prescribed hearing aids.The Department regularly stresses the importance, of early diagnosis and treatment of hearing impairment and I would urge anyone, of any age, who has a hearing difficulty to seek early advice and treatment, in the first place from his general practitioner.