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What do we mean by ‘hearing health’?

  • Posted by Paolo,
  • Engagement & Involvement Specialist,
  • in Listen up,
  • July '20

A thought-provoking project

What is ‘hearing health’?

Vocal has been working with researchers from the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) to raise awareness of research into hearing health.

Whilst ‘hearing health’ is a term that we use in research, how does it connect with people outside of this specialist community?

We talked to researchers and professionals working in the field, to people with hearing loss, people from the d/Deaf community and people at risk of losing their hearing. We asked the same question: “What does ‘hearing health’ mean?” “Easy”, I thought.

However, we found out very quickly that, there isn’t a straight-forward answer. Some people defined hearing health in the terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ hearing, others looked at it from social and cultural points of view. However, for most people it is something they don’t really think about.

If I don’t feel there’s a problem, I probably wouldn’t think about it.

—Project contributor

Our approach

In collaboration with artist Will Renel, we held a series of creative workshops with researchers and three groups of people who are involved in their research:

  • Hearing aid users;
  • d/Deaf BSL users;
  • People from a community group with mixed experiences of hearing.

These workshops explored:

  • People’s views around hearing and how the concept is influenced by their own personal experiences;
  • What the elements of hearing health might be;
  • Commonalities between people with different experiences;
  • How to communicate experiences to wider audiences.

In the final workshop, the groups came together to explore the possibilities of a collective understanding of hearing health.The conversations covered technology, communications, sound and physical and mental health. We didn’t get to a definition but rather a view that hearing health is a topic that needs to be explored further by everyone.

Why is this project important?

This project brought together people whose paths don’t usually cross and, who may be seen as not having much in common. The workshops allowed people to openly discuss their experiences and views in an environment free of judgement. Also, this project demonstrates that there is an array of incredibly rich and diverse experiences that research into hearing health needs to take into account.

Through these workshop activities, it became clear that there is no “one size fits all” approach to tackling hearing loss, and it is important that the outcomes of our research can be tailored to suit the needs of the individual

—Hearing Health researcher who worked with the hearing aid users group

Health doesn’t only live in a GP practice or between hospital walls, it’s wherever people are. Social interactions, personal contexts and cultural dimensions are a few of the factors that play a key role in people’ understanding of both health hearing health.

Next steps and outcomes

This creative approach allowed us to explore vastly different personal experiences whilst recognising their co-existence in hearing health. Have a look at the final outputs from the project Hearing Health Now.