An overview of deafness

Hearing is central to our health and well-being and is critical for the development of speech, spoken language, communication skills and learning. Deafness or loss of hearing at any age has a significant impact on educational attainment, employment and quality of life.

Key points: 


  • Deafness is a low incidence-high needs condition.
  • The Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP), advances in technology and effective early intervention programmes mean that children are making better progress than ever before and the long-term impacts of deafness are being minimised.
  • Children identified with hearing loss who are appropriately supported before 6 months of age have the potential to develop language (spoken or signed) on a par with their hearing peers (Yoshinaga-Itano et al, 1998).
  • The speech and language therapist has a central role in providing individualised assessment, diagnosis and intervention to the child in partnership with his/her family. This should reflect the choices the family have made regarding communication mode and habilitation approach.


  • Noise exposure and ageing are the primary causes of hearing loss in adults in the UK.
  • It is important for clinicians to differentiate between hearing loss and cognitive impairment and to identify when one or both of these conditions are present.
  • Clear links have been established between hearing loss and dementia (Lin et al, 2011). 
  • Many older adults will have both hearing impairment and cognitive loss, and together these losses will affect communication, social participation, and quality of life (Pichora-Fuller, Dupuis, Reed, & Lemke, 2013).
  • Although hearing loss can be associated with health issues, it has a wider societal impact.An integrated approach to effective service provision involves public, private and voluntary sectors, including people with hearing loss themselves (Department of Health, 2015).

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