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.