Deafness ​overview

Key points

  • Hearing is central to our health and wellbeing 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.
  • Deafness is a low-incidence, high-needs condition
  • Noise exposure and ageing are the primary causes of hearing loss in adults in the UK

What is deafness?

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  • 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 six months of age, have the potential to develop language (spoken or signed) on a par with their hearing peers (Yoshinaga-Itano et al, 1998).


  • 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).

Role of speech and language therapy in deafness?

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.

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