THE BLOG

Unscreened and Not Heard

17/09/2015 15:31 BST | Updated 16/09/2016 10:12 BST

I recently met an old friend at a local community event and we were talking about the various artisan food stalls that were selling their products. I'd brought some rather lovely cheese and my friend mentioned that he had given it up completely having just had a high cholesterol result from a recent 'Well Man' screening programme. My friend is very fit, cycles to work every day and doesn't appear to have an ounce of fat on him, which goes to show that unless you get a check-up, you just don't know. Now he is taking positive action, even if it does mean he missed out on some rather lovely cheese.

As a charity, at Action on Hearing Loss we often talk about the 10 million people in the UK living with a hearing loss. While this is a shockingly large figure - amounting to one in six of us - what we perhaps don't stress enough is that four of those 10 million live with an unaddressed hearing loss.

Now that hearing loss has been acknowledged by the Government as a major public health issue, it's time we started treated it as one. It's an astonishing fact that people wait an average of 10 years to acknowledge their hearing loss and do something about it - something that would be unthinkable for other conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Although many might not consider hearing loss a serious health condition, when you think of it in terms of problems it is linked to - including a gradual process of social isolation, depression, anxiety and dementia - the side effects can be devastating. With an ageing population and the number of people with hearing loss set to soar to 14.5million by 2031, it's high time a national screening programme was introduced.

The benefits of the early detection of hearing loss are numerous. From an audiological perspective, research overwhelmingly states that the process of adapting to hearing aids is much smoother the earlier you start wearing them - greatly lessening the risk of simply leaving them in the drawer and giving up entirely.

Hearing loss also can also have a huge impact on social life and mental health of those affected. The noisy, clattering sounds of the pub become increasingly intolerable, large family gatherings turn into a real struggle and meetings at work are hard to follow. Over time, imperceptible, gradual hearing loss often results in people withdrawing from the social world - leading to a variety of mental health problems, with links now being made to dementia.

Exclusion from a healthy social life due to hearing loss is preventable. If people are encouraged to go for a routine screening when they turn 65, more will get the right support when they need it. Millions of pounds spent on conditions related to untreated hearing loss could be saved, and the quality of life for a huge amount of older people would greatly improve.

This is why we're spearheading the Hearing Screening for Life campaign, a coalition formed of Action on Hearing Loss, Age UK, Carers UK, Dementia UK, Independent Age, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Royal Voluntary Service and Hearing Link, which has been campaigning for a national screening programme.

The National Screening Committee, which is responsible for making recommendations to the Government about national screening programmes, has consulted on whether or not to roll one out for hearing loss. We'll be submitting a response, and we will be using stories submitted to us by our supporters and the public to demonstrate what an impact early intervention in hearing loss can make.

A hearing screening programme could improve millions of people's lives. To get involved in our campaign, please visit www.hearingscreening.org.uk.