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Practical help with hearing loss and hearing aids

Practical help and support with hearing loss and hearing aids

Age-related hearing loss (or presbycusis) affects around 71% of those aged over 70  in England.  Men are more likely to be affected than women. It is a major and growing cause of disability and vulnerability.

If hearing loss is left untreated, it can have far reaching impacts - beyond difficulties with hearing.  Because people with hearing loss find it difficult to follow speech, they have a much higher risk of feeling socially isolated and developing loneliness and other related mental health problems like stress, depression and anxiety.  Research shows that in older adults, hearing loss is linked with:

  • a higher risk of falls,
  • double the risk of depression,
  • up to five times the risk of dementia,
  • a higher risk of needing intensive support to live independently

Nevertheless, many older adults do not seek help for their hearing loss because they believe it is a natural part of ageing.  Many of those with severe problems wait around ten years before getting treatment.  

Hearing aids are currently the most likely treatment, but other medical or surgical solutions such as cochlear implants are becoming more common.  Innovative technologies and medicines are constantly being developed and a medical referral will ensure that you can access the best available option.

Getting the best out of your hearing aid 

Hearing aids can improve quality of life and reduce rates of cognitive decline by 75%. The majority or users - 71% - think they should have got them sooner.

However, many of those who could benefit, don’t use an aid .  Similarly, many hearing aid users don’t fully understand how to get the best use out of them. 

Because of this, experts in the UK have created C2Hear – an online collection of videos specially developed to help new hearing aid users understand how to use them to best effect. 

The video collection explores all the different aspects of using a hearing aid use, such as with a telephone or available loop devices.  

Types of hearing aid, NHS or private?

Hearing aids are freely available through the NHS – all you need is a GP referral.The benefits of getting a hearing aid on the NHS include:

  • hearing aids are provided for free as a long-term loan
  • batteries and repairs are free (there may be a charge if you lose or break your hearing aid and it needs to be replaced)
  • you do not have to pay for any follow-up appointments or aftercare

There are many types of hearing aid.  Those provided by the NHS tend to be “Behind the Ear (BTE)” types, or occasionally “Receiver in the Ear (RITE)” types whereas paying privately will open up access to other types.  

Prices for an aid can range between £500-£3,500 and batteries, maintenance and repairs can add to the overall cost. The difference in waiting times between NHS and private treatment might also play into your decision.

Some private hearing aid providers can offer devices that can be adjusted remotely by a professional, avoiding the need to visit a service. There are also hearing aid devices capable of monitoring your activity levels, along with other indicators of health, and feeding this information into an app. These devices generally carry a high price tag.

You can read more about the various types of hearing aid in this expert NHS article. Other objective information is available from hear-it  - a global non-commercial website devoted to information about hearing loss.

Batteries and repairs

NHS aid batteries can be supplied free from the hearing aid service and many areas will also post these out to you. In some instances, buying privately can be easier but there are different types of batteries to be aware of.

These NHS videos show how devices vary across the country- one aid features a helpful magnet to help insert the battery. They also provide helpful instruction about inserting batteries into  standard “behind the ear” aids. 

If your aid isn’t working, your supplier will be able to help but many problems can be solved at home.  This NHS information sheet will help you pinpoint the problem.  

Other technology

The scope of supportive technology is constantly developing.  There is a rapidly growing collection of loop systems, apps, equipment and services which can help adults with hearing loss to communicate effectively.  The technology section of the Hearing Link website provides an expert collection of suitable products and services.

Devices which you might find helpful includeflashing light alarms (eg, for doorbell or smoke alarm), vibrating alarm clocks, amplified telephones, teleconnectors for hearing aids/phones, and frequency-modulation transmitters (an FM microphone/transmitter and receiver).   There are multiple apps to help transcribe speech to text or amplify sound on your device. 

Helpful youtube channels

When it comes to practical equipment, videos can be more useful than reading.  These YouTube channels provide invaluable advice via their videos and playlists:

Looking to the future

Research is underway exploring drug, gene and cell-based therapies to reduce the incidence of age-related hearing loss and improve hearing amongst those already experiencing some degree of loss. 

Telehealth technology is rapidly developing to remotely fit hearing aids or to facilitate self-fitting. 

Smart home technologies also offer promising solutions but they do require good internet access, and the ability to use the technology and troubleshoot any difficulties. They also need to ensure security measures which can protect people from having their data misused and prevent cybercrime. 

WHAT OUR CARENTS SAY

Hearing loss in old age just adds to the isolation and exclusion

I needed to understand how to fix the hearing aids so I could help dad

The carers and doctors pretty much ignored the hearing loss but it had a massively negative effect on quality of life

PLEASE TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

May 2022

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