Winning team - DMU Audiology staff and students conduct hearing tests at Special Olympics

It's the sporting showdown that tests athletes to the limit of their abilities - and volunteers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are at the heart of the action.

Staff and students from the Audiology course are at the Special Olympics GB National Summer Games in Sheffield this week to conduct hearing tests for the competitors.

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Around 2,600 athletes with learning disabilities from across England, Scotland and Wales are competing in sports including football, judo, sailing, powerlifting, equestrianism and tennis.

As part of the games, all the sportsmen and women are offered a range of on-the-spot medical health screenings.

The aim of the Healthy Athletes programme is to improve every competitor's ability to train and compete in Special Olympics, with check-ups offered in a welcoming, friendly and fun environment. It also offers invaluable experience for the students, said Wendy Stevens, senior lecturer in Audiology at DMU and clinical director for healthy hearing at the Special Olympics.

"A hearing test is one of those things that is often last on most people's to-do list," she said. "People with learning disabilities get all their healthcare needs met, but again, a hearing test might be a low priority and hearing loss can go undetected or mistaken for behavioural problems.

"This is a chance to bring the tests to them. And it's also a great opportunity for student clinicians who don't get to see that many people with learning disabilities.


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"Back in March, I was at the Winter Special Olympics in Austria, and we screened 300 athletes in a little more than five hours. In the average NHS clinic in the same time, you might see three people with learning disabilities.

"One of the fundamental things the students will learn about is communication. At an international event, that might be to do with language but athletes may have communication difficulties as well. They might not be able to communicate verbally. They might also have some behavioural problems that students have to deal with. Students have to be able to think on their feet and adapt their clinical skills to meet the needs of each particular athlete.

"We follow a Special Olympics protocol. If an athlete passes the test, they get a form confirming it. If they don't, and we find some hearing loss, they get a letter to take to their GP or an audiology department."

In 2013, Wendy took a group of students to the last GB National Games, which were held at Bath, where the DMU team screened 300 athletes.

 "The atmosphere at the games is amazing. It's all about participating, and doing the best of your ability. The athletes aren't bothered about the colour of the medals, it's about taking part. The oath of the Special Olympics is: 'Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt'.

"We have to take a lot of equipment with us. I've got equipment coming from Belgium and I've borrowed equipment from our labs at DMU. We like to give all the athletes a gift too, so I've got sponsorship from here, there and everywhere."

A total of 14 DMU students, graduates and staff plus clinical staff from hospitals in Sheffield and Barnsley will be screening athletes at the games, which run until Friday.

"It's also about having fun," Wendy added. "The volunteers have the chance to watch some events, present awards and attend the opening ceremony at Bramall Lane."

Posted on Tuesday 8 August 2017

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