Nearly a third of people aged between 65 and 74 have a hearing impairment and this increases to nearly half of people over 75. These are staggeringly high figures and yet you would not know it just from walking around. Hearing loss, although common amongst elderly people, is very much a hidden frailty. You can’t see it, there are no bandages, no white sticks and many older people don’t want you to know.
Increasing deafness is a sign of approaching old age – who wants to hold their hand up to that? So they soldier on turning the TV up louder and guessing what people are saying to them. My father did this all the time. When asked any question, he would often answer “half past eleven” thinking you were asking him the time. :-). Irrespective of the question you had actually asked.
Yet this is a serious health problem which left untreated can lead to much more devastating conditions. The most obvious is loneliness and isolation, as hearing loss gradually excludes them from joining in conversations. Recent research at John Hopkins University in Maryland, has found that a third of the risk of dementia is down to hearing loss.
Unfortunately the NHS is deaf to this situation, with audiology services becoming more and more restricted. Only 1 in 5 of the 6.7 million people who could benefit from a hearing test actually get one on the NHS.
Everyone else is left at the mercy of predatory private sector providers, who will often charge them a fortune for hearing aid, which should be provided free on the NHS.
So, it is not just double glazing salesmen, anti-ageing cosmetics suppliers, opticians who want to upgrade your spectacles every five minutes and expensive hearing aid providers, who take advantage of older peoples’ vulnerability.
Now the NHS is doing it too!