STIGMA about wearing a hearing aid and a lack of understanding about treatment options has left half a million over 75s suffering in silence, a report out today has found.
The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) said hearing loss was leaving thousands of older people isolated and suffering from loneliness, and has launched a new campaign calling on families, friends and neighbours to listen out for signs of hearing loss and to ensure older people get the treatment they need.
“We were able to pair him up with a befriender who also suffered from hearing loss. He explained that hearing aids had changed and arranged for him to be tested. “Now he can talk to his daughter on the phone and even goes to social clubs. His world has changed completely.”
Researchers found more than a than a third of those whose hearing had got worse hadn’t told family or friends, and 31 per cent hadn’t sought professional help.
Hearing loss is also affecting the social life of 43 per cent of the over 75s whose hearing had deteriorated, while a third admitted they pretend to hear when out socially by nodding and smiling.
According to the findings, 18 per cent said not being able to hear properly had made them lose their confidence and nine per cent that they were less social as a result.
Worryingly, one in 20 feel lonelier because they have stopped going out as much.
The campaign comes just days after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on families to do more to stay in touch with their older friends and relatives to stop pensioners suffering a “lonely death”.
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, which affects more than 92,000 people in our region, since February 2014.
The RVS report highlights the case of a North Yorkshire man in his 80s, who chose to avoid social situations because he was embarrassed about his hearing loss.
His wife had died six years earlier, his only daughter lived over 200 miles away, and the television had become his only company. She got in touch with the RVS and arranged for a befriender to visit.
Paul Taylor, head of support and development for East England, which includes Yorkshire, said: “We were able to pair him up with a befriender who also suffered from hearing loss. He explained that hearing aids had changed and arranged for him to be tested.
“Now he can talk to his daughter on the phone and even goes to social clubs. His world has changed completely.”
The report also said that stigma, combined with lack of understanding about potential treatment, is causing many to refrain from seeking help.
One in six said they didn’t want to wear hearing aids because they don’t like the look of them, while eight per cent admit they are worried they will be treated differently.
Five per cent said they thought wearing a hearing aid would make them look old.
Chief executive of the RVS, David McCullough, said: “This research proves how vital it is that we normalise hearing loss and hearing aids so older people seek the help they need. There is a worryingly high level of under-diagnosis and as we are living in an ageing society this is a problem that is only going to grow.
“We believe that the voluntary sector has a role to play in ensuring older people with hearing loss are linked up to services in the community so that no older person is left lonely and isolated.”
The RVS offers a range of services in Yorkshire that could help someone suffering from hearing loss, including a Home from Hospital service, Good Neighbours befriending scheme and community transport.
Mr Taylor added: “Hearing loss still carries a stigma that something like failing sight does not. This has to change.
“The isolation and loneliness that can come from hearing loss can lead to further physical and mental health problems. But it is something that can be easily helped.”