Making a big noise for the Ear Foundation’s success
Hearing and Communicating in a technological era
The number of children with hearing loss now taking advantage of dedicated family programmes at Nottingham’s Ear Foundation has risen by nearly 70% over the last two years.
July 25 marked the anniversary of when the Ear Foundation raised the funds for the very first cochlear implant 29-years-ago. Since then, it has been supporting children and adults to hear and communicate with confidence using today’s exciting new technology.
Melanie Gregory took over as CEO in 2016 and over the last two years the charity, which supports children and adults with hearing loss, has dramatically increased its range of family programme courses and the number of children and families attending.
On Wednesday, the Ear Foundation celebrated its 29th birthday while hosting European Friendship Week in Yorkshire. Forty teenagers from the UK and seven European countries joined, to learn more about each other, about managing communication and technology confidently and to make new friends – these often developing into lifelong friendships.
Overall, the number of children with cochlear implants now attending courses at the Ear Foundation has increased from 294 in 2015 to 446 in 2017, while those with hearing aids has also gone up from 123 to 245. In many cases, parents, carers and siblings have also joined them.
“Things are changing in a really positive direction and, by providing ongoing support for children and parents, we are able to help them to develop assets for life, to be aspirational about their choices for the future and to be confident communicators,” said Mel.
“Technology in hearing aids and cochlear implants has developed enormously in the last few years. As a result, ease of use has never better and satisfaction has improved too. You can now stream sound straight form your mobile into a hearing aid or a cochlear implant, which makes a tremendous difference in improving independence and confidence. Cochlear Implants can be adjusted by the user using their mobile phones too.
“We want to develop a new generation of proud and confident technology wearers. We are particularly aware of the need to support young people who are going through a transition phase in their lives – moving from primary to secondary school, progressing on to further education or transitioning into the workplace.
“The Ear Foundation strives to help each child and young person who comes through our doors to reach their full potential and be confident about who they are – we strive to help each child to have a voice, to recognise the choices available young people with hearing loss today don’t have to live in silence.”
The Ear Foundation’s programme for young people extends from birth to 25 years of age, and, as this comment shows, for children growing up, the issues can still be complex.
One youngster who had been on the Teenz Programme, said: “I’m not 100% deaf or hearing, which hasn’t been easy. To the Deaf community, I’m ‘too hearing’ as I have a hearing family and a cochlear implant. But when I was at my hearing mainstream school, I felt ‘too deaf’.
“I lost myself, I didn’t know where I fitted in and I was struggling to communicate with everyone. At The Ear Foundation, I’ve found lots of children with a similar experience to me. I’ve finally found the place where I do belong after all those years and I’ve learned how to grow into the person I am today.”
2017 saw a number of firsts for the charity, including a residential weekend for 8-13 year olds and a Leaders’ programme for 18-25 year olds, with residential camps rated as outstanding by Ofsted in all areas. It has also launched an Early Intervention training programme in Uganda this year.
As well as younger people, the charity also provides support and runs events for adults who wear cochlear implants, bone conduction implants and hearing aids. Last year, it helped 2,200 of the most vulnerable older people with hearing loss.
One lady commented afterwards: “The Ear Foundation helped me get back on track after my cochlear implant with events for adults such as days on music appreciation, lip reading, listening strategies and how to deal with difficult situations. I’ve met a lot of people there and made lasting friendships.”
Looking ahead, Mel believes one of the biggest challenges is to continue to raise the profile of hearing loss, which she says is still an invisible and unrecognised problem.
The charity is also campaigning to improve access to cochlear implantation through the relaxation of NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines.
“There are a large number of people who are no longer able to benefit from hearing aids, but still cannot access cochlear implants due to the restrictive NICE guidelines,” she said. “We are working together with the industry and other agencies in the UK to address this issue.”
Another focus for the future is the connection between hearing and healthy ageing. Mel says both professionals and the public are still unaware of the impact of hearing on health and wellbeing, especially for older people, as in particular, unaddressed hearing loss is linked with social isolation, cognitive decline and dementia.
“Today, people are living longer, they want live independently and to stay healthy. Hearing well and participating socially is key to longevity and quality of life,” she continued.
“We’re campaigning for hearing tests to be included in general health screening programmes as hearing better prevents isolation, it connects us to the people we love – very important especially as you get older – and in turn it benefits mental health by enabling people to stay involved and in touch.
“We have the technology now, but we need to be willing to embrace it and better manage hearing in the community. That’s my goal for the Ear Foundation for the future. Our work will not be possible without generosity from so many over the last 29 years.”
For more information on the Ear Foundation, please visit www.earfoundation.org.uk