Group Head of Audiology
What is your professional background?
I am a qualified audiologist and speech/language therapist. My dual qualification gave me insight into the real impact of hearing loss and communication loss. This is what underpins my interest in rehabilitative audiology and a person-centred or holistic approach to hearing care.
Life started out in South Africa, I got my qualification from the University of Witwatersrand, then ran my own private practice, which was enormously interesting. During that time, I met Nelson Mandela and assisted him with his hearing aids. That was quite a defining moment in my professional life. He was an amazing, humble and truly wise man. He received his first hearing aids shortly before his first United Nations address, so there was a bit of pressure. I thought, ‘What if they don’t work or don’t do exactly what they need to do at such an important point in his life and in the history of South Africa?’ It was wonderful experience to meet him and it certainly highlighted the importance of the patient’s daily life perspective in clinical care.
I had the opportunity to develop this person-centred perspective even further during my time at The Ida Institute, where I developed global collaborative innovation processes to enhance person-centred counselling methods and tools, together with colleagues from the international audiology community and The Ida Institute. One of the most important principles I learned is that all good innovation begins with empathy and this is particularly true when we talk about innovating clinical practice.
The latest research is showing that healthy ageing is an emergent capacity across the lifespan, in other words when we adopt a healthy lifestyle, maintain a positive attitude and keep fit, at any point in our lives, we can increase our potential for health in our later years. Sensory health – vision and hearing – are an important part of being able to grow, learn, participate and contribute throughout life, and I am enormously interested in developing this understanding of holistic health across the lifespan within the Leightons group.
Managing hearing and vision together makes good sense – for every line down the vision chart we go, the chances of having a hearing problem increase by 18%. There are certain groups where hearing and vision monitoring and care is of particular importance, for example, for those who have diabetes or vascular problems. It is both convenient and good clinical practice to ensure that eyes and ears are both taken care of in a seamless way for conditions which affect both eyes and ears.
During my time at The Ida Institute, we focused much of our work on understanding the perspective of patients and what is most important for them along their hearing care journey.
What are the most exciting innovations in hearing care and eye care at the moment?
We are living in a time when the devices around us are becoming more intelligent, connected and linked to our health. As an audiologist, I am excited about the fact that the ear has pole position for health monitoring. New developments will include being able to monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels from your ear and these will probably be incorporated into hearing aid technology. Technology of the future will be able to detect what we wish to attend to during conversation, making it even easier to listen to important conversation whilst in noisy situations.
In addition, patients will have more autonomy in assessing their hearing, monitoring how their hearing devices are working and adjusting their own hearing aids, indicating that we might be moving into a whole new era of patient-driven care.