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.