Hearing Screening for Life
Hard of hearing MP Stephen Lloyd is spearheading a campaign to bring in hearing screening for the over 65’s.This campaign needs your support now. The more people who support this campaign, the more mainstream hearing loss will become, leading to better hearing aid services, information and support – for you!
Hearing Screening for Life is a campaign run by a coalition of charities and campaigning organisations led by Stephen Lloyd, MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon and patron of Hearing Link. All recognise that unaddressed age-onset hearing loss is detrimental to the long term health and wellbeing of the people they represent, and hearing screening at 65 is the most effective way of addressing this.
The campaign was launched in Parliament in June 2013 with a view to a pilot being carried out by the Department of Health National Screening Committee next year and eventual roll of the screening programme soon after that.
In this article Stephen explains more fully about the aims and objectives of the campaign, how it will benefit the health and well being of older people and society as a whole, and also the impact on Hearing Link and its supporters and volunteers.
A public health issue
Hearing loss is a major public health issue affecting over 10 million people in the UK, one in six of the population. It affects how we communicate, how we interact with our families and friends, and ultimately, it can lead to social isolation and depression.
Despite these difficulties, there are about four million people in the UK who have substandard hearing and, as expected, many are over 65 years of age.
Research has found that on average, it takes a person 10 years to seek help after they start noticing symptoms. So by the time they seek treatment, aged around 75, it is too late to develop the techniques so vital to using a hearing aid.
Our campaign is driven by certainty that the sooner we can get people to accept they have a hearing loss, the better the chance they have of successfully using a hearing aid to help them lead a full and healthy life.
I’m a hearing aid user myself and I could not do my job without it. It’s not a miracle, it’s a piece of equipment that over time I have leant to use properly – much easier to do at a younger age.
A mainstream campaign
One of my aims was to ensure that a wide range of non deaf charities and organisations would support the campaign. Over the past two years I have been meeting with high profile organisations such as Age UK, Carers UK and Dementia UK to educate them about hearing loss.
Once they grasped how important hearing screening was to the lives of their beneficiaries and members, they were keen to join me and support the cause. Their backing also means that the campaign became mainstream and is not solely about deafness (considered in many political and health circles an unglamorous and cinderella issue always shunted to the sidelines).
I’ve also been working with senior audiology experts such as Professor Adrian Davis from the British MRC Institute of Hearing Research and of course my colleagues from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness.
But, although the campaign has the valued support of these prominent charities and professionals, I have deliberately taken the decision to lead the campaign as an individual MP myself. This ensures that no one but me has a vested interest or plays a dominating role, and I can steer the campaign in the direction I wish it to go.
Bringing a hidden disability into the open
I would say that in some ways we are still pretty much where we were about 20 years ago as regards awareness of hearing in our society – deafness largely remains a hidden disability that people don’t want to talk about or disclose. My theory is that the screening programme would force hearing loss into the open through the sheer volume of people requiring hearing aids. It would make hearing loss ‘normal’ and a completely ordinary state of affairs that is freely declared and discussed. What an achievement that would be!
However there would have be in place proper support, information and rehabilitation to deal with the potential deluge of older people seeking advice and help. Cue Hearing Link. I work very closely with Lorraine Gailey (Hearing Link CEO) and both she and I agree when it happens, the charity will have to grow to accommodate the needs of the over 65 year old population – primarily we believe through increasing its volunteer capacity.
The next step
I am looking forward to the next stage of the campaign which will involve the Department of Health carrying out a feasibility study to examine the most practical way to deliver a UK wide screening programme, be it though audiologists or GPs. This will hopefully happen in 2014, with roll out the following year.
I feel proud of what we have achieved so far and I know the benefits to people will be huge. The number of older people in our society is growing, and the issue of unaddressed hearing loss will become increasingly prevalent unless action is taken now. Please get involved if you can!
Visit the Hearing Screening for Life website to find out more about the campaign and how to get involved.