The NHS is starting to deny free hearing aids to people with mild to moderate hearing loss not for financial, but for clinical reasons they say.
There are two problems with this decision, the first is a practical one: less people will get hearing aids for free which means that more will have to buy hearing aids privately. And sadly, many won’t be able to afford a purchase in the range of £2000–5000.
The second problem lies in the message that this decision is sending: by stating that people with a mild to moderate hearing loss don’t need a hearing aid, they are not taking hearing loss seriously.
For many organisations such as Action on Hearing Loss, which have spent years promoting the benefits of wearing hearing aids, this decision is a major step back.
Of the 360 million people in the world who have a disabling hearing loss, only one out of 40 buys a hearing aid. Stigma and high cost are, together with other factors, to blame for these dramatic stats.
Hearing loss is associated with ageing and disability, that is why people who need hearing aids are so resistant to buying them. It usually takes an average of ten years from when the first signs of hearing loss are spotted, to finally deciding to purchase hearing aids.
It takes so long mainly because it takes time to accept change and to look for help. It’s a very stressful decision to make but once it’s made, life will improve significantly.
I grew up with moderately severe hearing loss and I did not wear hearing aids until my twenties. How did I get by? I lip read here and there, tried my luck with yes or no answers, and I pretended a lot. I faked it. By faking it, I didn’t need to deal with the problem.
Now, what worries me about the NHS new approach is that they are telling people they can keep faking it putting their problem to rest.
The problem is real. Even people with mild hearing loss struggle to follow a conversation in a loud restaurant. People with a moderate loss will miss words at the movies and will struggle to hear even in quieter environments. Like at dinner with the family.
Once I read a moving story of a lady with hearing loss who was telling about the time she did not wear hearing aids: “
I struggled to follow the family conversation when everybody was talking at the same time. Whenever I asked my grandchildren: what was that? They came back with a painful: “Never mind grandma…”. It hurt. A lot. I used to think of my kitchen as my relaxing and peaceful place, because I didn’t have to try hard there.”
It’s proven that untreated hearing loss leads to isolation, depression and even dementia. We live in a world that is getting louder and louder, and hearing loss is becoming more common even in younger demographics. We cannot afford not to take it seriously.