Did you know that one in six people (one in five in Devon) have hearing loss in the UK and for those over fifty this rises to four in ten? Hearing loss affects both children and adults, some people are born deaf, some loose hearing through an accident or subjection to loud noise and for others hearing can be a gradually loss over time. As a charity which supports Deaf (BSL Users) and people with disabilities, Living Options Devon regularly engages with its service users. The charity also facilitates service providers and encourages them to better support and improve services for those with a disability, so that they have the opportunity to live the life they choose.
With that in mind Living Options Devon hosted a ‘first of its kind’ hearing loss conference which brought together the local network of service providers and influencers, aiming to raise the profile of hearing loss in Devon and beyond. The half day conference which took place in October, was opened by Living Options Devon trustee, Jean Thorpe, who has been involved with the charity for over thirty years. Jean’s life time experience and work of ‘living with hearing loss’, coupled with her passion and ambition to improve the lives of people with hearing loss, saw the charity pull together key note speakers from Manchester and London.
Jean said “Hearing loss ‑ unseen, unwelcome, and unmentionable. The aim of the hearing loss conference is to change such attitudes, raise the profile of hearing loss and introduce attendees to new services, new research, and new facilities that certainly were not available forty years ago when I ran Coping with Deafness classes in Exeter and across East Devon”.
Political writer and broadcaster Jackie Ashley, kicked off the conference with a thought provoking insight into living with someone with hearing loss. Her father, the late Lord Jack Ashley CH of Stoke, became totally deaf when a simple operation to restore a perforated ear drum went tragically wrong. This did not, however, prohibit Lord Ashley from becoming the first deaf MP in British legislature, and Jackie shared with us the journey, services, tools and equipment her father used to enable him to continue communicating and doing his job.
Attendees to the conference were also given an introduction to the links between hearing loss and dementia. Dr Jenna Littlejohn, Research Associate Sensory Loss and Cognitive Impairment from the University of Manchester, explained the different types of research that have been undertaken, to cutting edge research that is still taking place, and how this translates into work within the third sector, the community and what support is provided to people with hearing loss and dementia. Jonathan Parsons, consultant clinical scientist of CHIME Enterprise gave a whistle stop tour of the evolution of hearing aids, intertwined with how our services have developed along the way. Jonathan’s practical solutions to hearing loss were then put into context by Simon Chant’s presentation of the prevalence of hearing loss in Devon. Simon who is the consultant in public health for Devon County Council reviews conditions like hearing loss across the county, how many people are affected and projections for the future.
Simon said “One thing which is of particular interest to us in public health and with the health and well‑being board is the link between loneliness and social isolation and dementia and hearing loss. There is some very useful evidence coming out of the impact loneliness has on people's health and effectively doubling the risk of dementia, what is of interest is that connection between hearing loss, so hearing loss, dementia and social isolation”.
The workshops that followed the speakers presentation’s, certainly engaged attendees to explore, share and discuss the topic of hearing loss, particularly hearing loss in Devon. Living Options Devon’s very own See Hear Centre which is based in Barnstaple, and offers equipment, information and support services for people with sensory loss, both at its offices and via its See Hear on Wheels van, delivered a workshop. Feedback from the workshops explored the stigma with hearing loss, that hearing tests should be just as common practice as getting your sight tested. The barrier to wear a hearing aid should be broken down and awareness of the subsequent cognitive issues through not wearing a hearing aid, such as isolation, loneliness and dementia, should be communicated. The different tools, on and offline, that can be used by an individual with hearing loss, support, guidance and referrals. These key messages continue to be feedback following the hearing loss conference. Living Options Devon hopes it has facilitated those who can make a difference or influence change to services and equipment for people of Devon living with hearing loss. The door to future conversations is now open, and the charity remains optimistic that conversations continue to explore and improve hearing loss services in Devon. As Jean commented, ‘from an acorn to an oak tree’ where branches continue to flourish well beyond our initial conference.
For more information on the conference and it’s outcomes please CONTACT US