BAA conference: Building skills for the future

For its 10th anniversary event, in November 2013, the British Academy of Audiology returned to its inaugural venue – Manchester – for the largest annual gathering of UK audiologists. Hundreds of audiologists, scientists, hearing aid dispensers, students and assistant audiologists arrived for the welcoming address from BAA President Adam Beckman.

With a conference theme of ‘Building Skills for the Future’ there was a broad range of clinical, academic and professional issues within audiology to cover in two days. Many sessions were also designed to look outwardly to other professions and consider how learning from other specialisms such as neurology and vision sciences will further enhance audiology roles.

The plenary sessions were interspersed with parallel sessions which offered delegates a vast range of topics to choose from. Whether professionals wanted to develop their knowledge in an area they are familiar with or learn about something new, there was something for everyone. Specific focus areas included: Hearing, Aging and Cognition; Paediatrics; Balance; Adult Rehabilitation; Professional Affairs; Complex Needs; Beyond Puretone audiograms and Tinnitus, along with more general discussions and practical demonstrations of audiology within the wider field.

There were dedicated sessions for students, and for assistant audiologists there was a morning of specific training modules looking at career development and Tinnitus Management Strategies. For the first time this year a manufacturers track was included in the programme that offered delegates the opportunity to gain practical skills and knowledge. Topics from manufacturers covered Motivation, Practical uses of technology, Procedures using new technology and Paediatrics.

The Scientific Programme team of Melanie Gregory from the Ida Institute and Paul James from the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital at University College London invited keynote speakers who are recognised for their on-going contribution to the field of audiology, in addition to many new presenters. The programme team said, “We hope that the mix of international and UK presentations will facilitate conversation for all participants regarding local and global issues in audiology and stimulate innovation in practice.

The Topic Café featured at conference once again and proved a great success. The Topic Café is a networking opportunity in a more informal setting for delegates and speakers, enabling all to share thoughts and ideas with each other. A facilitator in the café encouraged questions and discussions, ensuring participants could share their views relating to what they had heard during the presentations or to share questions raised during the sessions.

Keynote speakers

The first plenary session included international guest speakers from Australia (Professor Louise Hickson), America (Professor Patricia McCarthy) and England (Professor Adrian Davis OBE). Professor Hickson took the title of the conference ‘Building skills for the future’ and applied it to the area of Audiological Rehabilitation. She reviewed the expectations of hearing impaired people when it comes to the patient-centeredness of audiology, family-centred care and ways to improve self-efficacy in adults considering hearing aid fitting. The studies Hickson’s team have published highlight the importance of building a therapeutic relationship with patients as well as patient-centred care. Professor Hickson argued that developing skills in these areas will be essential in future audiological practice.

Professor McCarthy from Chicago emphasised the need for cultural competence among hearing healthcare professionals as the world goes through a remarkable period of cultural shift and changes due to various global factors including immigration patterns, economic changes and communication technology. Audiologists are increasingly seeing patients with a broad range of cultural health perspectives. She stated that improved patient satisfaction, positive outcomes and reduction in health care disparities have all been associated with culturally competent health care.

Life after graduation

There were plenty of sessions aimed at student audiologists and also the opportunity for students to present their work over the two days at conference. One session focused on ‘Where do you want to be in five years’ time?’ by exploring the different career options for aspiring audiologists. Ph.D student Jeff Davies presented very practical information for those students or BSc qualified audiologists who may be considering a Ph.D. Davies has chosen to do a part-time Ph.D which means he can work two days a week as an audiologist whilst studying for the other three days. Part-time study will take between 4 and 8 years to complete the Ph.D but finances are easier for many people taking this route. As well as providing practical information about what is involved in the study and thesis, he also talked about the career pathway post Ph.D.

Eifat Khan, who used to work in an NHS clinic, now works for Oticon as a technical support audiologist. She told the audience what this job role for a manufacturer entails and how they could develop in this area of the industry. Donna Corrigan, also an ex-NHS employee, now works for the charity Sense and she explained how the skills and training achieved whilst working in an NHS Audiology department can easily be transferred to the charity sector. Her advice to the students was “Do the less exciting activities… a lot. This gives you so much experience and knowledge that will help you move through different roles.”

Finally Dr Dave Fabry offered an international perspective for students, with a mild plug for moving to America as they have an extreme shortage of audiologists, despite it regularly being voted one of the top professions to work in! America needs to double its population of audiologists. He said that a Ph.D does offer you many opportunities beyond the clinical domain; Fabry has spent half his career in a clinical or university environment. The other half has been spent on the manufacturing side. He plugged the importance of getting involved with the professional body and professional matters as, “this gives you a much broader perspective on the industry.”

UK Biobank

Large databases are rare but very important for research studies. The UK Biobank has been established by several partners, including the Wellcome Trust medical charity; it is hosted by Manchester University and provides a major national health resource for many researchers, including audiology. Hearing researchers at the University of Manchester, Nottingham University and NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit have planned a total of 20 hearing-related studies. The first four studies using the dataset of half a million adults were presented at BAA conference.

Hearing and vision function in middle age; a population snapshot of 40-69 year olds in the UK is the first study to report population-based prevalence of hearing difficulties in background noise in a large and inclusive sample. Kevin Munro’s team at the University of Manchester analysed subsets of the UK Biobank resource with respect to better-ear signal-to-noise ratio, measured adaptively for the 50% recognition threshold using the Digit Triplet Test (n = 164,770). Self-report data on tinnitus, use of hearing aids, noise exposure as well as demographic variables were collected. Analysing the data from 499,315 subjects, one in four report hearing problems, and one in three people say they have problems in background noise. There is a two-fold increase for tinnitus between the younger and older cohort. Once again this study shows that there are a lot of people who could benefit from hearing aids that are not using them. 12% of people ‘fail’ the Digit Triplet Test but only 2% of people use hearing aids. There are many inequalities, with people using hearing aids tending to be in a higher social bracket.

Professor Dave Moore from the NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unite studied ‘Hearing decline in middle age: speech perception and cognition as indices of change.’ The Puretone audiogram has been seen as the gold standard in audiology, but it is a poor predictor of speech-in-noise hearing; the Digit triplet Test paints a different picture of the pattern of hearing loss among an older, middle age population. Moore is advocating testing of speech in noise hearing and cognition as part of the routine hearing assessment of older people.

The third study presented from the UK Biobank dataset looked at the relationship between tinnitus, neuroticism and measures of mental health. People with ‘neurotic’ tendencies are more likely to be troubled by their tinnitus, the study found. The research, led by academics at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, found that those who were lonely, worried or anxious, miserable or experiencing mood swings were more likely to report their tinnitus as being bothersome. The results suggest that those people with a more sensitive nature may be less able to cope with the symptoms of their hearing condition. Dr Abby McCormack, who led the study, said, “It is likely that personality factors play an important role in the perception and management of tinnitus, possibly by influencing the tendency to be aware of it. Therefore treatment should be tailored for individual personality types to help people cope with their condition.”

The final presentation from the UK Biobank data was from Dr Piers Dawes from the University of Manchester who assessed whether hearing loss causes cognitive decline. Whilst it is acknowledged that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia, it is not known why. The study showed an association between hearing aid usage and cognition, in that people with hearing aids had better cognition, but Dawes questioned whether this could be evidence of support for the deprivation hypothesis, as the study could not establish causation. Dr Dawesd said, “It could be that people with better cognition obtain hearing aids.” Some interesting findings did emerge from this study when researchers looked at the effect of alcohol and smoking on hearing loss. People who consume up to two standard alcoholic drinks per day showed a 36% reduced risk of hearing loss! Current smokers had a 14% increased risked of hearing loss, although this was dose-dependent, with those smoking more per day showing a 30% increased risk. Interestingly, ex-smokers showed no extra risk of hearing loss than non-smokers! Those exposed to passive smoke had a 28% increased risk of developing hearing loss.

During the AGM at conference, Will Brassington took over from Adam Beckman as President of the BAA, so the closing remarks at the event were left to Brassington. After thanking Beckman for his work for the BAA, the conference team for creating “a quality of programme that was exceptional,” and delegates for staying right to the end, Brassington outlined the year ahead for him and the BAA. “My role is to lead BAA and plant the seeds for future development. I will be vocal, work tirelessly and will not be unduly biased. I may make mistakes but I will acknowledge these. 2014 brings new challenges and numerous changes in practice. This is a huge honour for me and I really hope to see you all at the 2014 British Academy of Audiology Conference at Bournemouth International Centre on 20th and 21st November.”

BAA Awards 2013

Each year, awards are given to individuals and teams who have excelled or shown exceptional commitment to audiology over the past twelve months. Here are the 2013 winners:

  • Team of the Year: Audiology Team for Argyll and the Isles NHS Scotland
  • Audiologist of the Year: Dhaval Mehta
  • The Jos Millar Shield: Dr Helen Pryce
  • Lisa Bayliss Award: Rhabia Hussain
  • Oticon Student of the Year: Amy Jauncey

Victoria Adshead, editor in chief of Audio infos UK

Photo: V.A.