eargym – On an amplifying mission to change hearing health
One in five people across the world suffer from partial to total hearing loss, and it is rising. With eargym, a start-up pre-seed tech company based in East Sussex, the opportunity to apply new knowledge with technology offers a chance to impact and improve the lives of millions right now.
The eargym app includes a hearing ability test, skills test, a library of bespoke auditory training games and up-to-date advice and guidance including referral if necessary. As eargym heads into beta-testing with an app that is set to revolutionise our hearing health, Locate East Sussex is taking a closer look at this uniquely placed collaboration between the health and digital sectors.
We know from the RNID that for every pound spent on sight loss, only 11p is spent on hearing loss. We want to meet the challenge and give people the ability to do something about their hearing now.Amanda PhilpottCo-founder of earGym
As populations start to live longer, there are many concerns that the loss of hearing causes a sharp decline in quality of life, leading to social isolation, health issues and discrimination. Experienced with working with academic institutions such as University of Sussex, University of Brighton, and the local economic partnership, Amanda Philpott, former NHS Chief Exec at East Sussex CCGs, was uniquely placed to understand the issues involved in global aging populations to launch this new venture.
‘I thought that creating eargym would be a massive opportunity to try and address this health issue on a global scale. Opportunities like this don’t come often, and Andy (Shanks) and I could launch and build on our passion.’
Introduced to Zinc VC by Kate Thorpe of Sussex University, Amanda connected with Andy Shanks, who with background in DJing, professional audio and digital projects, both realised independently how much hearing health plays an important impact on not only their parents’ lives, but the quality of their own lives right now.
‘How big an impact is our hearing?’ Amanda said, ‘It takes people on average ten years to admit our own loss and do something about it.’ With statistics stating that total global economic costs of hearing loss in 2019 exceeded $981 billion, with 47% of costs relating to quality-of-life losses, with 32% due to additional costs of poor health in people with hearing loss, eargym is not just addressing importance of ear health in personal and professional settings but using digital technology can help to curtail the growing crisis.
‘Hearing loss is more of a taboo than sight loss’ Amanda said, ‘We know from the RNID that for every pound spent on sight loss, only 11p is spent on hearing loss. We want to meet the challenge and give people the ability to do something about it now.
‘Your hearing is both sensorineural capacity and auditory processing, and the evidence is you can encourage your brain to listen better, which our research has supported. Your hearing health is related to your cognitive health. Midlife hearing loss is the most influential, and amenable risk factor for dementia, and if we succeed we could influence a 9% reduction of new dementia cases.’
Partnership into a company
Seeing common interest and goal, eargym launched in 2020.
‘We came into this space because in the last hundred years the technology hasn’t dramatically changed. It’s hearing aids or nothing, and a lot of people still struggle with the concept because people fear that wearing them, they would be stigmatised and look frail.’
With support and advice from experts at the RNID, UCL and Imperial College London, eargym are not seeking to challenge the hearing aid market but instead improve hearing health for a wide range of audiences using techniques and technology for preventative training. ‘The earlier we get people to care about hearing, like the impact of wearing glasses or going to the dentist regularly, the better. eargym wants to encourage people to practice hearing. From our research, improvements can be seen from just four weeks of our training. We’re now undertaking research to build a solid understanding of how these improved skills will translate into real life situations.’
Launching in mid-March during the first lockdown, eargym was able to gather a great team throughout the country via remote working to take on its mission, with Amanda working from her office in Wealden. With welcome support from Locate East Sussex, eargym has been refining their strategy and are now starting to launch their beta testing.
Focusing on the five most highly recognised hearing skills, eargym is currently testing out the first version of their app, giving easy access for anyone to engage with enjoyable and immersive auditory training, and ensuring that people can keep hearing the sounds they love to hear. From Busy Barista, a bespoke game designed to train your ability to understand speech in noise as you work behind a counter, to Soundseeker, helping you train for more location-based hearing skills searching for sounds across different locations, eargym wants to help users to play with a purpose in mind.
‘At eargym,’ Amanda said, ‘we give people an immersive binaural, 360-degree auditory experience. We are not replacing the high street audiometry tests (though not enough people know they can get hearing tests for free), but we are creating resources that will help build confidence and a community.
‘Someone said to us, on the one hand you say headphones are bad for you, but then you are encouraging others to use headphones? Headphones are great when you use them responsibly and safely.’
Doing testing through social media and launching beta product testing, eargym helps people who seek to move away from helplessness and allow its users to take care of their own health.
‘We see eargym as a potential B2B partner for many, including headphone manufacturers, high street audiologists, noisy occupational environments… we see it more as a partnership than competition. The more knowledge and the more data we collect and contribute, the better for our future collective health and for better, effective products.’
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