By Neyeah Watson
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health problem affecting people in Canada ages 20-79, and affects 10 percent of the population. Like in the U.S., hearing loss is undertreated in Canada. Fewer than 20 percent and one percent wear hearing aids and cochlear implants (CIs), respectively, for their hearing loss.
A new policy championed by William Steinberg, mayor of Hampstead, Quebec—a suburb of Montreal—aims to make CIs more accessible to Canadians. In January, Quebec Premier François Legault authorized CI surgeries to expand to Montreal. Though CI surgery has been performed in Canada since 1982, Montreal was deprived a center for financial reasons. Following advocacy from Steinberg and others, government officials were able to make budgetary adjustments to allow for funding.
Steinberg, a bilateral CI recipient, has been at the forefront of the Montreal CI campaign. Steinberg was born with a severe to moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, but was not diagnosed until second grade. “I got a hearing aid built into my glasses at that time,” Steinberg explains. “However, in those days they did not have the sophisticated hearing aids that we have today so it was basically an amplifier.”
Steinberg received CIs in 2004, at which time hearing loss in both ears had diminished to profound. Despite his powerful hearing aids, he could no longer carry out a reasonable conversation on the phone. “Today I can talk for hours and miss not much more than someone with normal hearing,” explains Steinberg, who also serves as president of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association in Canada.
The Mayor’s personal experience with hearing loss inspired his ambition for greater CI surgery accessibility by making the procedure available in Montreal. In Canada, the CI locations are limited geographically. Cities such as Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Saskatchatoon, Saskatchewan currently have centers for CI surgery. However, the cities are geographically scattered, requiring some residents with hearing loss to travel hundreds of miles for surgery. A center in Montreal will expand access and will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit.
The new cochlear implant program is expected to be especially helpful to children, who make up about 40 percent of cochlear implant recipients in Canada today. Children who reside in Montreal have to travel for check-ups and configuration, causing great inconvenience to families. Many individuals from Montreal expressed their frustration about the travel and inconvenience online.The approval of the new program in Montreal has lifted a burden.
Hearing loss affects all ages. There is no limit or expiration date on the possibility of restoring access to sound. As Vincent Lin, M.D., of Sunnybrook Health Science Centre in Toronto remarks, "Age is a number, as long as patients are in good health, there's no reason why they can't have this surgery done."