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Greater support and aids for the hard of hearing

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The recent news that British Sign Language is set to receive official recognition has put the spotlight on how difficult daily life can be for the hard of hearing. From hearing aids to cochlear implants, we take a look at how modern advances are supporting the deaf community.

Hearing loss affects many people from all walks of life. Whether a person is hard of hearing from birth or their hearing naturally deteriorates as they get older, deafness can often be an uncomfortable and isolating experience.

For many with hearing impediments from a young age, using sign language is a common and effective way to communicate. However, for those who develop hearing loss in later life, it can be difficult to learn signing from scratch. In their cases, it may be useful to explore treatments focused on restoring and improving their sense of hearing through technological developments.

Here we explore how wider use of British Sign Language (BSL) and newer treatments and devices are helping to make life easier for the hard of hearing.

Using Sign Language

It’s estimated that BSL is used by approximately 151,000 people in the UK today, 87,000 of whom are deaf or hard of hearing. Whilst it may seem a relatively small percentage of the overall population, this is still a significant number of people relying on non-verbal communication in their everyday life.

For those who have lived with a degree of deafness from a young age, BSL is often the most common and most effective way to interact with others. Use of sign language amongst the wider public and official bodies, however, has historically been lacking. As chairman of the British Deaf Association, David Buxton, puts it: “Deaf people still do not have access to the same essential information and services that are available to the hearing population.”

A new Sign Language Bill in parliament has now been approved and is gaining momentum in order to grant legal protections to BSL. This means that public bodies will need to ensure information is suitably available to BSL users, addressing an inequality that has affected so many deaf and hard of hearing people for so long.

The new BSL Act 2022 will mean that BSL is recognised as an official language of England, Scotland and Wales. While this will help to provide increased awareness and assistance for those who use BSL, it can be difficult to learn sign language later on in life. It may be useful to learn small, simple gestures, but correcting one’s hearing through devices like hearing aids or cochlear implants is often a quicker and easier way to support older people with hearing loss.

Cochlear implants

For those with permanent hearing loss considered to be severe or profound, you may wish to consider cochlear implants. While they are not a miracle cure for deafness, they can help to create the sensation of hearing through electronic signals sent straight to the inside of the ear.

Typically, different parts of the ear – like the eardrum – are usually responsible for processing sounds. If these become damaged, it’s virtually impossible to repair them due to the complexity of how everything works.

Cochlear implants completely bypass these other parts of the ear to send sound signals directly to the auditory nerve. A cochlear implant works by wearing a small microphone on the ear, similar to a conventional hearing aid. This microphone converts sounds into electrical signals, which are then sent via radio waves to a surgically implanted transmitter that stimulates the aural nerves.

Because of the process, the sensation of hearing through an implant is very different from normal hearing and it can take some time for an individual to get used to understanding various sounds around them. For more information on how cochlear implants work, visit the RNID website.

Hearing aids

While cochlear implants are more geared towards those living with permanent deafness, they are not necessarily the right solution for older people whose hearing has gradually deteriorated in later life. In most cases, it’s common to explore more conventional hearing aids to improve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss occurs for all sorts of reasons, including exposure to loud noises for long periods, excessive build-up of earwax and even just natural wear-and-tear of parts of the inner ear. Hearing aids work by making everyday sounds louder and clearer, by detecting and amplifying foreground noise like conversations.

As technology has developed and improved in recent years, hearing aids are becoming more and more discreet. Different shapes and sizes are available to suit different people and their unique needs. An audiologist should be able to advise on what’s best in your situation. You may even be able to trial a hearing aid for a short time to get used to it.

There are plenty of additional devices people can use alongside or instead of typical hearing aids. A range of assistive listening devices (ALDs) can help those living with hearing loss in everyday situations around the home or whilst out and about. You can find out more about the types of hearing aids available from the NHS website.