Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School Launches Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health
$10 million gift will provide seed funding for first center of its kind devoted to researching impact of hearing loss on public health, with focus on older adults
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announces the launch of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, a research center that will study the effects of hearing loss, particularly among older adults, with the goal of preventing and mitigating the consequences of hearing impairment, including cognitive decline and dementia.
The Center is being established with a U.S. $10 million gift from Cochlear Limited (ASX: COH), the Sydney, Australia-based developer of hearing implants. The Center will be headed by Frank Lin, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Mental Health at the Bloomberg School and of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“We are committed to bringing critical issues to the fore of public health research and awareness,” says Bloomberg School Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, MSc. “We are excited about the contributions the Cochlear Center will make in driving research and policy on the consequences of hearing loss, particularly as the world’s population ages.”
The announcement was made in the lead-up to World Hearing Day on March 3, designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness of hearing loss across the globe. One-third of the world’s population age 65 and older is affected by disabling hearing loss, according to WHO. The prevalence of age-related hearing loss is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific and South Asia. Lack of concerted attention towards hearing loss leads to an overall annual cost of $750 billion globally as estimated by the WHO.
“We are just now beginning to understand the impact that hearing loss can have on the lives of older adults,” says Lin. “Amazingly, there is a dearth of public health research that examines this area and that is geared towards developing solutions and policies needed to mitigate these effects. This Center is going to address these gaps through epidemiological, intervention, and health policy studies that span the otolaryngology and gerontology fields with public health.”
The gift from Cochlear provides support for the core Center infrastructure and for Center faculty and trainees—helping to attract the next generation of researchers and students. The Center’s research will be funded by traditional grant-making organizations, including the National Institutes of Health. At the time of its launch, the Center’s researchers had more than $20 million in NIH funding committed to the study of hearing loss.
Cochlear will also have representation on the Center’s advisory board to provide feedback and to help identify opportunities for continued academic-industry collaborations in furthering the Center’s core mission focused on hearing and public health. “We expect the collaboration behind this Center to generate insights into how to create scalable economic models for the delivery of hearing services to the millions of older adults in need,” said Lin.
Lin’s previous research laid the foundation for further inquiry, including studies on the impact that hearing loss in older adults has on dementia, brain health, health care costs and risk of institutionalization/hospitalization, that directly led in 2017 to the passage of federal legislation in the U.S. authorizing over-the-counter hearing aid sales to consumers.
The Center will use its research to develop and test interventions that mitigate the effects of hearing loss, and help craft policy and strategies to ensure successful implementation of these interventions at the local and national levels.
The Center’s researchers will leverage current programs and collaborations developed by Lin and his team, including:
- Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (ACHIEVE) Randomized Study: This $16 million, National Institute on Aging-funded clinical trial is the first study that will definitively determine if treating hearing in older adults can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia;
- Epidemiologic studies on hearing and health outcomes in older adults in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study (a study of nearly 16,000 adults followed since 1987) and the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (an NIA-funded study of aging which is the longest ongoing study of its kind around the world), among others;
- Implementation work around sustainable and low-cost hearing interventions using the HEARS (Hearing Equality through Accessible Research and Solutions) intervention developed with NIH funding and now being put into practice with a nonprofit (AccessHEARS) co-founded by Center faculty in partnership with AARP startup funds.
The Center’s offices will be housed in the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology.
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