“Sounds that Punch Right Into Your Hearing”

Are we out of our minds? Just when you think awareness of the dangers of noise might be beginning to catch on, you get a New York Times review of a pop concert headlined “Finding Balance in Braying, Shattering, Crackling Electronics.” (Yes, The New York Times.)

In case you think that’s a rhetorical flourish, the critic Ben Ratliff gets specific in his review of the concert series, called Tinnitus, which concentrates on “composers of extreme sound” and “has some kind of relationship with volume and aggression.”

One group in the series, Container,  emphasized “sampled drum sounds that punch right into your hearing and tons of feedback.”

Another, Vessel, “used bullying low-end blots, wild arcs of pitch-shifting and intricately flickering background layers, barely audible under the braying or shattering top lines.”

Are we completely oblivious of our hearing? I sure hope Container, Vessel, the audience and Ben Ratliff were all wearing noise-cancelling earplugs.

Talking About Hearing Loss With Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Listen

The one question I am asked more than any other is: “How do I talk to my spouse about hearing loss?”

Older couple enjoying a cup of tea together Every time I try to bring the subject up, they say, the spouse brushes it off. “I can hear fine,” is the impatient reply. Or, “It’s because you mumble.” Or, “It’s too loud in this restaurant.” Or —and this is the most frustrating — “Maybe I do, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Well, it bothers me,” you may be tempted to reply. Not a good idea.

What might work is to turn the discussion around. “Honey,” you say, “have you noticed that I’m missing things people say? I think I might be losing some of my hearing.”

Honey may look at you suspiciously.

“There’s a free clinic at the university where they do hearing tests,” you go on. “I’m going to go down there. There are so many new devices to help you hear better these days.”

“Hearing aids,” Honey says.

“Yeah, hearing aids. But also these things that work like hearing aids but cost about a tenth as much. I hear they’re great for mild hearing loss. I’m missing a lot of what they’re saying on TV, and also when we eat out I can never hear the specials.”

“Like I said,” Honey says. “Restaurants are too loud.”

“Anyway,” you continue. “It might just be earwax and it would be good to get that out.”

No response.

“I read the other day that you can use a smartphone as a hearing aid. I can turn my iPhone into a microphone — I read about it on Giz Mag. There’s another thing you can use with an IPhone or an Android that looks great. I read about it in the Times. You’ve gotten me hooked on this tech stuff.”

No response.

“There’s also this cool device that works kind of like a hearing aid but it looks just like a Bluetooth — called theSoundhawk. In fact there are all sorts of things that aren’t hearing aids but sound pretty great.”

Honey: “Hmft.”

“I’m going to go down to the clinic tomorrow and maybe stop off at the Apple store and check out the new stuff. Can you drive me, in case I can’t park?”

Honey agrees to drive you. You find a parking spot. No point in sitting in the hot car, Honey thinks. Might as well have the hearing test. I’m here anyway.

If you can get Honey to the hearing test, that’s a big first step. If the visit results in a halfway solution like thesmartphone app or the Soundhawk, that’s not a bad second step.

Turns out you have some hearing loss, too. The audiologist suggests the Bean, since you don’t really want to look like a Wall Street trader wearing the Soundhawk. It’s invisible. Then, maybe down the road, hearing aids.

Honey goes for the Soundhawk. The power look. The average wait between discovering you need a hearing aid and actually getting one is seven years, so get started now.

Photo: annebaek/iStock

Katherine Bouton is the author of Shouting Won’t Help, a memoir of adult-onset hearing loss. She has had progressive bilateral hearing loss since she was 30 and blogs about healthy living — and healthy aging — at Hear Better With Hearing Loss. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

This post first appeared on the AARP website: Healthy Hearing, by Katherine Bouton. 

Seahawks Fans Break Their Own Noise Record, Set off “Dance Quake”.

Yup. Dance Quake Outdoes Beast Quake.

If you thought 2011’s “Beast Quake” was loud (see Which NFL Team Has Fans Loud Enough to Trigger Earthquakes?), Seattle fans broke that record when quarterback Russell Wilson shot a pass to Luke Willson, to bring the Seahawks even with Green Bay (a two-point conversion pass, for football fans) with under a minute and a half to go in the game. The stomping and cheering was so loud that it generated a seismic signal even stronger than the famed “Beast Quake.”

It’s that fourth big spike in the seismograph.unnamed

“Whole Lotta Shakin,” NBC News reported. “It was very obvious that large number of fans were jumping up and down in unison at a rate of about 2 jumps per second. Our staff in the press box said that the whole place was shaking so much they thought it might be a real earthquake,” said University of Washington professor Steven Malone.

The tie led to an overtime win, taking the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX, which will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. “What a way to finish the season in Seattle,” Malone said. “Too bad we will not be seismically monitoring the Super Bowl.”

OK. I know as someone concerned with noise and its deleterious effects on hearing that I should disapprove. Season-ticket holders should probably get their hearing tested, buy noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, and head to Glendale. And keep on stomping.

Loud enough to cause an earthquake. So what’s it doing to your hearing?

If you’re lucky enough to attend this coming Sunday’s NFL playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, bring your noise-canceling headphones. It might also be a good idea to tie down your valuables before you leave home. Seismographers from the University of Washington have found that the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field is so loud that it generates earthquakes. Minor ones, so far, but this is a big game.

CenturyLink Field holds the record for the loudest outdoor sports stadium, thanks to its famed 12th Man (crowd noise). The decibel level at the record-breaking game, in December 2013, was 137.6 decibels. That’s quite a bit louder than a jackhammer and just below the noise of a jet engine at fairly close range. It’s also well into the range where it can cause immediate hearing damage. (You can read more about this game and other football hearing issues here.)

Seattle Seahawks fans

Researchers from the University of Washington installed two seismometers at CenturyLink Field several years ago. In Seattle’s earthquake prone vicinity, it was big news in 2011 when running back Marshall Lynch made a 67-yard touchdown, setting off seismic activity now fondly known as the BeastQuake. Last Sunday’s playoff between the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers also set off seismic activity.

The Seattle Times interviewed Steve Malone, professor emeritus at The University of Washington Seismologic Laboratory, after last Sunday’s game. Since TV has a 10 second lag time, he told the reporter, the seismologists were able to see the crowd reaction, in terms of seismic activity, before the play was even shown on TV. It would be good if CenturyLink Field also attracted the interest of audiologists. Maybe they could measure how many Seahawks season ticket holders have hearing loss.

One of the few people at CenturyLink Field not in danger of hearing damage is fullback Derrick Coleman, who is deaf. This gives him a distinct advantage over his teammates, because he can lip read the quarterback’s plays. Even though he can’t hear the crowd noise, he can feel it. He’s a human seismometer

Photo: AP/Elaine Thomson

Katherine Bouton is the author of Shouting Won’t Help, a memoir of adult-onset hearing loss. She has had progressive bilateral hearing loss since she was 30 and blogs about healthy living — and healthy aging — at Hear Better With Hearing Loss. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

This post first appeared on Healthy Hearing, AARP website, 1/15/15

Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy

AARP Focuses on Healthy Hearing.

AARP is making a big foray into the hearing loss field, which is great for those of us who have — or will have — trouble hearing.

Even now, more than half of those with hearing loss are under the age of 60 — that means 24 million of us are already not hearing as well as we could be. By the time we reach age 75 two-thirds of us will have hearing loss. With 8000 baby boomers reaching 65 every single day, that’s going to be a lot of people with hearing loss.

As part of AARP’s effort, I have a new blog on the site, called Healthy Hearing, which will appear at least once a week. The first post is up today. To encourage AARP’s efforts in this direction, please link to the blog and also go to their Hearing Resources Center.

With the support of an enormous and influential group like AARP, people with hearing loss will have a strong advocate, to join the advocacy work done by the Hearing Loss Association of America, the National Institute on Aging, and other groups.

But AARP needs to know we care about this issue. So please click  on the link, tweet it, email it, and tell your friends. And follow it!

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to blog on this site whenever I have something to say!

Dogs and Us

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Dog at rest.

     Dogs go deaf, just like we do. But this isn’t about doggie deafness.

    It’s basically a link to a lovely article by David Dudley titled “What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging” from the AARP magazine.

        Here’s the takeaway:

      “Eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”

 

What’s With the Purple?

Why purple?

I like it, for starters.

But it’s also part of the color scheme of the logo of the Hearing Loss of Association of America. I’m a fan of HLAA, and a member, and a member of the board. I’m grateful to it for advocacy and support on the national and local levels. And for the many friends I’ve made through the organization.

For more information, and for the location of chapters, go to Hearing Loss Association of America.imgres

You might also want to look at the websites for The Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), AG Bell, and Gallaudet University. They all have useful information, local chapters, and many resources to offer to the deaf and hard of hearing.

Good News! For a change.

Good news for people with hearing loss.

Last week CMS, which runs Medicare and Medicaid, reversed itself on an earlier proposal to eliminate coverage for bone-anchored cochlear implants, like Cochlear’s Baha and Oticon’s Ponto.

This is good news for two reasons.

First, it preserves coverage for an important and expensive technology. People with certain kinds of hearing loss, including that resulting from acoustic neuroma, can’t be treated with hearing aids or conventional cochlear implants. The bone-anchored devices, which have been implanted in 40,000 Americans since they were approved by the FDA and accepted for Medicare reimbursement in January 2006, affect people of all ages. Only 20 percent of these 40,000 procedures was covered by Medicare, according to the Hearing Industries Association. And in fact when CMS made its original proposal to end coverage it noted that it wouldn’t save Medicare a substantial amount of money.

Medicare’s decision not only ensures that these devices will continue to be available on Medicare but also will have a so-called ripple affect. Private insurance companies often follow Medicare’s lead in coverage guidelines.

And these devices are expensive (although not as expensive as conventional cochlear implants, which both Medicare and private insurers generally cover). Cochlear Americas estimated that the national average “bundled” rate (which includes physician and audiologist services), is $9732 if the surgery is done on a hospital outpatient basis.

The second piece of good news is that this was accomplished as a result of a public campaign against the proposed changed. Cochlear Americas got it started but CMS received more than 4,070 comments, and 11,300 signatures on a petition, according to the Acoustic Neuroma Society. The people’s voices were heard!

Let’s all remember that the next time CMS or some other seemingly behemoth government agency proposes to cut back coverage of an essential device or procedure.

A Joyful Racket

For people with hearing loss, parties are often hard work. Such hard work that many simply stop going to them. But the other night I was at the noisiest party I’ve been to in years. And I had a great time.

The party was a wine and cheese gathering at my apartment to meet the Executive Director of the Hearing Loss Association, Anna Gilmore Hall, who had come to New York to talk to some HLAA donors and activists about her plans for HLAA.  I doubt there was anyone there under the age of 50, there was no music, no loudspeakers, no dancing, not even that much drinking. Just 45 people with hearing loss talking to each other. What a racket!

But it was a joyful racket. I think many of us with hearing loss feel marginalized at parties because we can’t hear as well as everyone else. But at this party none of us could understand much of what was being said. We cheerfully read lips and talked louder and louder as the evening went along, knowing that we weren’t missing much that anyone else was getting. It was fun, and I don’t say that often about going to parties.

One guest brought along his Roger assistive device, a pen shaped microphone that he would hold up to a speaker. The sound he wanted to hear — the speaker’s voice — went right to his hearing aid and cochlear implant. All the surrounding noise fell away. Most of us, though, muddled along. Finally when Anna got up to talk, the room fell mercifully quiet.

We could all understand what Anna was saying, not only because she was the only one speaking but because HLAA had arranged to have a CART operator at the gathering, who live captioned her talk on a screen set up in my living room. Here’s a picture of the screen.

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We often think of people with hearing loss as living in a quiet world. It is quiet, unless there’s noise around. Then people with hearing loss find themselves in a world that is much noisier to them than to their hearing peers.

As almost anyone with hearing aids knows, hearing aids aren’t very helpful in a noisy restaurant. The human ear — the biological ear — is remarkably efficient in screening wanted from unwanted noise. The younger the ear, the more efficient. Think of your teenager casually chatting with a friend in a room with music blaring at top decibel levels.

The bionic ear — and the aided ear — are woefully lacking in that filtering capacity. All hearing aids, even the most sophisticated, are essentially amplifiers. They pick up the sound and amplify it. The better hearing aids include programs to help screen wanted from unwanted noise but they’re not effective in places like restaurants. The bionic ear, by which I mean a cochlear implant, also lacks the capability to screen effectively.

This is both a plus and a minus. The minuses are obvious. You can’t always hear what you want to where you want to because there is too much noise being transmitted to your brain to allow it to figure out words.

The pluses are not to be discounted, however. I can sit in front of a shrieking three-year-old on a plane and — as long as she’s not also kicking my seat — screen her out by taking out my hearing aid and turning off my cochlear implant.

But back to the noisy party. Because of that same unwanted and unfiltered amplification, most of us at the party were in a sea of noise. Real life SurroundSound. But it was a good noise.

Scientists Meet the Consumers

SCIENTISTS MEET THE CONSUMERS.

Yesterday I was the guest speaker at the 14th annual Forum on Hearing and Hearing Loss, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Department of Audiology and the Boston Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Sharon Kujawa, who originated the event and has organized it for 14 years, is an Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School, director of the Department of Audiology at Mass Eye and Ear, and Senior Researcher at the Eaton Peabody Laboratories at Mass Eye and Ear. Her lab focuses on noise and age induced hearing loss, and is currently investigating how noise exposure alters the way ears and the auditory system age. By understanding the underlying mechanisms, the lab hopes to develop a drug that could result in treatment or prevention.

Specifically, the Kujawa lab is involved in a biomedical and engineering research partnership that is looking to develop an implanted drug delivery system that could help prevent hearing loss. Given to vulnerable populations — those exposed to unavoidable loud noise, for instance active-duty military, as well as those with a genetic predisposition to hearing loss  — the drug might help offset the effects of the noise exposure.

Dr. Kujawa spoke first. Her talk was a detailed discussion of what we now know about the causes of hearing loss, and about the  underlying systems. She also talked about the lab’s current work. Her talk covered a lot of technical material but it was crystal clear.

I spoke next, about hearing loss from a personal perspective, about the need to educate people about hearing loss, about the general misunderstanding of adult-onset hearing loss (most of us are not Deaf and we don’t use sign language). I also spoke about the need for reforms in Medicare and private insurance, which currently do not cover hearing aids or diagnostic hearing tests. I urged those in the audience to write to their congressional representative and ask for support for HR3150, which would overturn the statute that currently prohibits Medicare from reimbursing for hearing aids or diagnostic hearing tests.

HR 3150 would be an immensely important corrective to the existing policy. The consequences of untreated hearing loss, are enormous — not only personally but on a public health level as well. Untreated hearing loss is strongly associated with depression and isolation (both known risk factors for dementia), anxiety, paranoia, with a three-fold greater risk of falls — and an alarmingly greater correlation with the onset and severity of dementia.

This is a power-point talk that I frequently give to hearing loss groups as well as academic audiences. For a list of upcoming appearances, you can go to my website: katherinebouton.com and look under events. Most are open to the public, and most have multiple kinds of hearing accessibility. CART — simultaneous captioning on a screen on stage — is always available. Many venues are also looped, and sometimes there is an ASL intepreter.

Dr. Charles Liberman was the third speaker. Dr. Liberman is the Harold F. Schulknecht Professor of Otology and Laryngology and Vice Chair of Basic Research in that department, which is part of Harvard Medical School. He and Dr. Kujawa collaborate on much of their work. Dr. Liberman’s current research focuses on noise: “acoustic overexposure.” His talk was also highly technical but also very clear to his mostly lay audience. He discussed the ways the inner ear connects to the brain — through two kinds of sensory neurons and and two neuronal feedback systems — and how those pathways can be affected by noise exposure.

Neither Dr. Kujawa nor Dr. Liberman spoke down to the audience, and the audience members responded with their own detailed technical questions. People with hearing loss are often well versed in the science of hearing loss, and the Mass Eye and Ear annual forums bring cutting edge science to the lay public.

Mass Eye and Ear has made a commitment to sharing its research with the public. Does anyone know if such public forums exist at  other academic hearing centers? It’s a generous gesture from the scientific community to the population their research may eventually benefit.