Reflections on Hearing Loss

KB in Seattle copyInterview with Stu Nunnery, After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life. This paragraph about HLAA is just one part. Click on the link to read the whole interview.

Stu: Hearing loss has many side effects short and long term and most troubling to many of us is the isolation, depression, and other long term health issues.

Katherine: This is why I advocate for HLAA. Joining your local chapter of HLAA is the best way you can find others like you. It doesn’t mean you give up your hearing friends or your hearing life, but you meet new friends. And because many HLAA meetings have Communication Access Real Time (CART) capability, you can actually comfortably “hear” in these meetings.  I’ve learned a huge amount in casual conversation with my HLAA friends, and even more from the structured programs we sponsor. That said, in contrast to the very culturally vibrant deaf community, outside of HLAA (and maybe ALDA) there isn’t a hearing-loss community at all, much less a vibrant one. I think active HLAA members do have a vibrant community, but it’s hard to get people interested.

 

Source: After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life

The Elusive Sound of Music

Hearing aids and cochlear implants are designed to maximize speech comprehension, which is as it should be. But for many of us, this means compromising on one of life’s joys, music.music-notes-on-staff-clipart-dT6XGz8T9

As Natalie Angier wrote in an article in Science Times last week, “In international surveys, people consistently rank music as one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure and emotional power. We marry to music, graduate to music, mourn to music.”

She also noted that Americans listen to music four hours a day.

The inability to hear and appreciate music is one of the most frustrating aspects of hearing loss. While hearing aids and cochlear implants are designed to maximize our speech comprehension, they are inadequate to the task of reproducing the fidelity of the human ear when it comes to music.

Part of this has to do with digital versus analog hearing aids. Audiologist and author Marshall Chasin, director of auditory research at the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada, has explained that the old-fashioned analog hearing aid was nowhere near as good as the newer digital hearing aids for speech, but it was better for music listening.

It also has to do with the wide range of sound in music. “Human speech is generally between 30 decibels and 85 decibels, giving it a range of about 50 decibels,” says Lisa Packer, a staff writer for Healthy Hearing. “Music, however, has a range of about 100 decibels. Hearing aids simply aren’t designed to efficiently process such a wide range of sound.”

So what can you do? Chasin has this practical advice for hearing aid users:

  • For recorded music, turn down the volume on the source and turn up your hearing aid. Turning up the volume on, say, a car radio just causes distortion of the incoming signal.

  • Use an FM system, and plug it into the direct audio input jack. This also helps reduce the distortion that results from turning up the source of the sound.

  • In a live-music venue, muffle the microphone on your hearing aid. Try a scarf or earmuffs over your hearing aid or wear a hat, or you can try Chasin’s trick: Scotch tape. He tells his patients to take several layers of tape and place it over the microphone. This decreases the distortion. “It is low-tech, but it works really well,” he says.

  • Take off the hearing aid. Music is inherently louder than speech, and if you have moderate hearing loss, you may be able to hear without amplification and without distortion.

  • For those with cochlear implants, some of these suggestions might work, although not the last one. Most people have little to no residual hearing after a cochlear implant, so simply taking the device off would leave you with no sound.

From my own experience, a visual component always improves the musical listening experience. For example

  • Vocal music with captions (whether live opera or YouTube) will help you to “hear” the sung words in a way that you can’t without that visual clue.

  • Reading lips is not a solution because singing distorts the mouth, but watching a singer can help with comprehension simply because of body language and facial expression.

  • With orchestral music, the kind most difficult for me to follow live — and impossible to follow as recorded music — I find that if I focus on a key player it helps to make the music a bit more comprehensible. This is easier with an instrument where you can see the player’s hands and body movements — a piano or cello, for instance. I can’t follow the fingering of a flute or piccolo in any useful way.

I refuse to give up on music, so I accept it even with compromises. It’s far better than no music at all.

Hearing Loss? Think Opportunity.

“Hearing loss is such an adventure,” a new acquaintance wrote to me not long ago.

This is one comment I’d never heard before.

Wow, I thought, she really has reached that elusive state of acceptance. Many people talk about the hearing loss “journey,” from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance.

But an adventure. That suggests exciting new opportunities and challenges.

My friend had had a severe drop in her hearing in her 30’s. “Many doors I had intended to open and travel through closed.” That happens to people with severe or sudden hearing loss. Career pathways can be blocked. If you always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot, that’s probably not going to happen. But most career and social obstacles simply have to be navigated in a more strategic way.

My friend also talked about the doors that opened because of her hearing loss. She became an active member of the Hearing Loss Association of America, HLAA (then called SHHH – Self Help for the Hard of Hearing). She met many new people, she became involved in advocacy to effect change, to ensure that the principles embodied in the American With Disabilities Act applied to people with hearing loss as well as to those with more obvious disabilities.

She traveled as part of her advocacy work, she educated people and shared information. She navigated the shoals of technology, she encountered stigma and by example helped defeat it. And of course she struggled to hear.

“To be honest,” she wrote, “my adventures with hearing loss have not all been enjoyable, however they have challenged me to learn things I would never have been interested in otherwise.”

In this holiday season, I want to celebrate the benefits that can come with disability, the intense satisfaction of overcoming obstacles, the sense of achievement that comes with learning about new technology, the gratification of helping to effect change for the good.

The hearing loss journey is an ongoing one. Hearing may continue to deteriorate but opportunities and technology continue to improve. The challenge to push yourself to try one more new device, to venture out to one more event, can sometimes seem overwhelming. But from now on, I’m going to think of it as an adventure.

“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