Scots charities unite to help veterans with sight and hearing loss

Armed forces veterans must act quickly if they are having problems with their hearing or sight, three Scottish charities have urged.

With veterans at greater risk of developing sensory impairment, Age Scotland, Action on Hearing Loss and Scottish War Blinded are calling for screening for veterans to identify those who are losing their hearing at an early stage.

The charities are also campaigning to raise awareness of the help available to veterans with vision or hearing loss, often caused by being exposed to loud noises such gunfire and battlefield explosions.

Highlighting the Scottish Government’s recognition of “early diagnosis and intervention”, Action on Hearing Loss Scotland director Teri Devine said: “We want older veterans to be screened for hearing loss so they can access the person-centred support they need to reduce the impact of deafness in their everyday lives.

“People on average take up to 10 years before getting their hearing tested from the point they first notice hearing difficulties. Through our Hearing Forces service, we are supporting older veterans to benefit from using hearing aids, which are most effective when fitted as soon as hearing loss is diagnosed.”

A guide for service personnel has been produced by the groups advising how they can get help, which has been welcomed by Scotland’s Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace.

He said: “This practical guide for older veterans who are living with sensory loss, primarily sight and hearing, details in clear, concise language the advice and support available.

“I am sure it will prove to be a welcome addition to the information already available to those living with these conditions and to the health professionals and family members supporting them.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “Older veterans with sight and hearing loss often miss out on a wealth of support available to them, either because they are unaware it is available, or because they don’t realise they count as a veteran.

“Anyone aged 65 years and older who has done and received pay for at least one day’s service in the UK Armed Forces is classed as an older veteran, including national servicemen, reservists and merchant navy who have supported a military operation.”

In addition to the guide, the charities are calling for changes to Certificate for Vision Impairment registration, suggesting everyone should be asked if they served in the forces so veterans can be directed to the correct support.

Rebecca Barr, director of Scottish War Blinded, said: “It is vital that veterans who are concerned about their sight have it checked as soon as possible, so that they can access the support available to them.

“We support over 1,000 veterans with sight loss across Scotland, helping them develop skills to live independently and providing a network of support and activities which helps prevent them from becoming isolated.”

One former servicewoman to benefit from the charity’s work is 88-year-old Isa Scott, from Paisley.

Ms Scott, who joined the RAF in 1948, started losing her sight in her mid-80s due to macular degeneration.

“After the hospital treatment I didn’t see anyone, and I was left to cope alone,” she said.

But she was then referred to Scottish War Blinded, who helped her continue her hobby of knitting with the aid of an electronic magnifier.

The charity then opened the Hawkhead Centre in Paisley which enables her to join with “everything” from art and crafts activities to music and yoga groups.

“At first I thought it wasn’t for me, I told them I was too old,” she said. “Now the Hawkhead drivers come and pick me up and drop me home again each week, which is great.

“Around the house I’m fine, but I’m not confident to go outside on my own other than to the shop across the road, so I love going to the centre. It’s smashing.”

Free copies of the Combating Sight and Hearing Loss guide can be requested from the Age Scotland Helpline on 0800 12 44 222.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Scottish War Blinded / PA Wire.