The Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre (IDHHC), a local not-for-profit organization, has launched what could be a life altering program for some Victoria residents.
The program, called Sound of Change, provides free hearing assessments, treatment services, and free refurbished hearing aids to low-income seniors and adults. For some clients like Shirley DeWolfe, aged 75, it’s been a life changing experience.
“My mother’s hearing loss had progressed to the point where she didn’t like to leave her home, and she couldn’t even go to a doctor’s appointment or have any sort of interaction with people without my going along to provide support,” said her daughter, Teresa Bell, adding the level of isolation felt by her mother had a profound effect on her well-being.
The family tried to get help for her mother in the past, recounting a heart-rending experience when her mother attempted to purchase a hearing aid from a local company.
“She went in and got their free hearing assessment and they tested her and let her try a hearing aid. She was so happy she was crying. It was the first time in forever she could hear my voice clearly and the sound of the world in general. Then they found out she had no credit card and didn’t qualify for credit, and they took it back,” said Bell. “She was devastated.”
She said learning about the IDHHC program was a life saver.
The Sound of Change program has, in part, been made possible through the support of the Lions of B.C. Hearing Conservation Society, that helped collect the discarded hearing aids and donated them to the IDHCC for refurbishing.
But Denise Robertson, IDHHC executive director, explained the refurbished units were only part of the puzzle as the IDHHC still had to access the needed equipment to do hearing assessments and create the earpieces for the refurbished units.
While the program targets low-income individuals, Robertson said every case is reviewed on its own merits, and the goal is to turn no one away who truly needs the service, adding the fact that vets qualify for a hearing aid from Veteran’s Affairs and Employment B.C. has a program to help with hearing aids if a hearing loss is threatening your employment.
Another part of IDHHC involves educating the public about hearing loss. Robertson said the problem of hearing loss in Canada is only growing as the population ages and other factors take root in our society. A 2013 review of data by Statistics Canada estimated 4.6 million Canadians aged 20 to 79 had a hearing loss that affected their ability to hear normal speech. The report acknowledged the number to probably be much higher as many people experiencing hearing loss are reluctant to admit their condition.
“We need to educate the public that this is a public health issue and that people with hearing loss are not intellectually challenged…they simply can’t hear, and shouldn’t be ostracized by the community as a result,” said Robertson.
“It’s that attitude preventing too many people from seeking help.”
As for DeWolfe, she’s thrilled with the outcome of her outreach to IDHHC, and described the fact she can hear again as life restoring.
“I can hear frogs, birds and quails on my deck now. I can go to meetings and I can hear. It’s like being born again,” she said.
Information on the Sound of Change program is available at idhhc.ca.