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Hearing Aids 101

I belong to a writing group here in Salt Lake City.  The writing center had it’s 10 year celebration last night and I was asked if I wanted to represent our little group.  Sure!  My topic is almost always hearing loss as I’m looking to educate others.  I asked the SWC Connect list what would be the best thing for me to write on, and they said the reality of hearing aids.

So last night was the reading and I received positive response from the audience.  I shared it on the Connect list and now I’ll share it here on the SWC blog.  Here it is.

Hearing Aids 101

 a la Chelle George

Hearing aids aren’t called hearing miracles for a reason. Hearing aids help but they can’t reproduce true hearing. Technology is making advances but there is no cure for hearing loss. Those of us who wear hearing aids learn their limits but some hearing people around us seem to think once we pop our hearing aids in, we will understand everything. I’m here to tell you, even with our aids in we are still hard of hearing.

Sensorineural hearing loss, also called nerve deafness, is the most common type of hearing loss and it is permanent. With this kind of loss, some sounds come across at normal volume and others not all. Usually the higher frequencies go missing, but they low tones stay in tact. High pitches includes birds, bugs, timers, phones, kids and many women’s voices. In the alphabet many consonants are higher frequencies and vowels come across in low tones. Out of 26 letters in the alphabet, I hear five of them best; even with my hearing aids in.

Imagine going through your day hearing mostly vowels and only some consonants clearly. Many conversations are a constant puzzle to piece together. Take the sentence, “I’ve got to get my keys,” and try understanding it this way: I ot et I ee’s. For those with hearing loss, their mind races to fill in the blanks much like Wheel of Fortune with letters blanked out. Life becomes the Wheel of Fortune, only can I buy a consonant, please? The vowels aren’t as important. My hearing aids help me get a few more sounds but I still miss whole words. A busy day of ‘hearing’ can lead to exhaustion with all that concentration and mental activity.

Hearing people seem to think, “If only she would turn up the volume, she could hear.” Here it is in simple terms; volume distorts. Some sounds I hear well and some I do not. Take the word “shout” and try shouting it out. The “OW” hurts my ears coming across loud and clear, but the “sh” and “t” get lost in “OW.” Shouting won’t work, and neither do hearing aids with a super high volume because technology hasn’t caught up to missing frequencies.

Mechanical hearing pick ups mechanical noises better than sounds I want to hear. I can’t hear my phone ring, my cat meow, birds sing and I have trouble understanding speech but I do hear the garbage truck grind to a halt in front of my house, the banging of the garbage bin as it’s tipped over and set back down. In cars, I hear road noise better than the person sitting next to me. In restaurants I hear fans, refrigerators and soda machines, not to mention the clashing of plates and clattering of silverware far better than the person sitting across from me trying to have a conversation. This also applies to large gatherings. All I hear is the roar of the crowd which drowns out the person in front of me trying to talk.

Technology has come a long way and digital hearing aids have helped in that these noises don’t hurt my ears as much as they used to but I still can’t hear whispers, understand the television without captions nor lyrics in songs and I can’t understand what someone says from another room, even with my hearing aids in. Listening to people takes mega amounts of concentration. I use some lip reading, watch body language and facial expressions for clues and sometimes I still get stuck on a word or a whole sentence, even with the help of my hearing aids.

I don’t leave the house without my hearing aids because without them I am more lost and every little bit helps. The old analog hearing aids were much harder to wear all the time because they turned up all the noise, including those I already heard well. The newer digital ones suppress some sounds and then try to take sounds I can’t hear and turn them into sounds I can but even that program has it’s limits.

Eye glasses slip on and replace vision but hearing aids can’t do that. They help but they do not give me my hearing back. All the adjustments in the world will not replace true hearing. Please know I am tormented at my own failure to understand my native tongue, simple English. I come down hard enough on myself without others getting impatient with me. Once sounds are gone, they are gone and there is no magical cure.

*Note: Cochlear implants run along the same lines. They may hear more sounds than a hearing aid but The CI does not replicate true hearing either.  Cochlear implant people are hard of hearing, even with their CI on.

7 thoughts on “Hearing Aids 101”

  1. Chelle,

    This is such a great FYI for hearing people — all people, really. I’ve never gotten benefit from hearing aids, and though I’ve qualified for cochlear implants, I’m taking my time to decide, as I’m not sure CI’s will give me as much improvement as I want. Each person has their own expectations and wish list, and I just want to make sure I’m willing to live with disappointing results, should I have them. That’s just me alone and someone else will make a decision different based on what is right for them. For those who think I’m bashing technology, I”m not… and I want to say that I’m not the norm, as most do get some benefit from hearing aids and/or CI and should seek to enhance their hearing with technology.

    That said, I still get well meaning hearing people, once they find out I’m not aided, who tell me that I should buy hearing aids. I used to go into a long explanation about how I’ve tried them since age 21 (I’m currently 52) and haven’t found benefit, probably because I have severe hyperacusis and can’t tolerate the volume I need, but lately I just thank them and move on to another subject. I do believe most people are under the impression that hearing aids do restore hearing to its pre-loss level… the same with cochlear implants. I’ve not gotten all of the comments that wearers get, “Do you have your hearing aids in?”, etc., but I can imagine it’s really irritating!!! Thanks for some great information!!

  2. Since this was written for a reading with mostly hearing people, I kept asking myself “What do I want hearing people to know,” as I wrote it. There was too much! I had to cut it down but maybe that was a good thing, straight and to the point. There’s something to be said for editing.
    I am of the same mind as you. I’m not convinced I want a CI in the future because even though I would hear more, I would still be hard of hearing. I feel like I’m in no man’s land in between hearing and deaf as it is. A CI would bump me up to the upper level of no man’s land but it kind of seems like all the same frustrations. Of course as I lose more hearing (and I do) I may change my mind and go for it.

  3. Nice post !!! I really enjoying to read your post. I am totally agree with your point that isn’t any such thing as a hearing loss “cure” – at least not right now, but scientists are working on it and they are commit some promising that they develop the cure ASAP with the help of various audiogram results.

  4. Nice job. Ive read a lot of posts in a lot of sites but never have i read anything quit like this one. You have nailed it, and I mean nailed it. This should be spread across all venues in regards to hearing and then some. Thinking of copying it and emailing it to my wife. again. NICE JOB.

  5. Thank again! When I wrote it, I had lots of requests from people to share it with others all over the country. What makes me feel good about this piece is that hearing people seem to get it once they read it. I would very much like to see it go far and wide to help people understand. Feel free to share it as much as you want, just throw my name on it somewhere.
    Have a great day!

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