Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Most ‘Missed’ Health-related Test: the hearing test

Ed Note: This is the first of what I hope will be many monthly contributions by Audiologist and Hearing Professional Glen Sutherland. Glen has worked with babies, children and adults of all ages and has a wealth of knowledge and experience that he is happy to share with readers.

Increasingly, research studies confirm that hearing is seldom routinely checked. A study from Virginia Commonwealth University shows that one of the most routinely missed health-related tests is the hearing test, being bypassed by physicians nearly 70 percent of the time. (Molly Raisch, The Most Neglected Health Test for Men, Men’s Health Magazine, April 19, 2012)

The effects of hearing loss, no matter how small, can be significant. Hearing loss can significantly reduce quality of life, especially the ability to communicate effectively; thereby, causing misunderstandings and restricting a person’s capacity to interact with others.

Left untreated, hearing loss may result in false diagnoses of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because of the symptomatic similarities. In some cases, hearing tests may suggest the presence of other related problems such as cancer, depression and cardiovascular disease.

Early identification of hearing loss plays an important role in limiting its adverse effects. It starts with a simple hearing test. Typically, hearing tests are quick (approximately 20 minutes to complete the test) and painless.

What do you have to lose? If the hearing test results indicate normal hearing, you have peace of mind knowing that your hearing is still within normal limits and your hearing health care professional has a baseline of your current hearing levels which can be used to compare with any future test results. If the hearing results indicate some type and degree of hearing loss, you can start to do something positive to help improve the quality of your hearing and your life.

Glen Sutherland, MCISc

Please note that the information in this blog is presented for the purpose of providing information and should not be used for medical diagnosis or treatment nor should it be used in place of medical advice from your doctor or hearing professional.

Why can’t you hear everything with hearing aids?

Some people will say to me “With your hearing aid you should be able to hear everything.” Unfortunately, that is not the case. The problem is the little hairs in the cochlea – the ones that tell the nerve endings about a sound so the nerve endings can then tell the brain that you have heard something. When we lose our hearing, the hairs die. Not all of them, but a good number. And they don’t grow back. So the sounds disappear.

We hear portions of words. The first sounds to go are the consonants – the letters that give meat and meaning to the word, surround the vowel and finish it off. We need consonants to make sure the vowels have form and structure. Otherwise, they are just sounds without meaning. Hearing aids can boost the hearing we have left, but they can’t replace the sounds we have lost.

But you don’t sound deaf

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this I would be a millionaire. While a deaf person’s speech may sound normal, it doesn’t mean that their hearing is as well.

I was four years old when I lost much of my hearing. That is significant. We start learning language during the first year of life and I had four years of hearing sounds. My voice patterns were set and my memory of sounds has carried me through. So while I don’t sound deaf, I actually can hear very little even with hearing aids.

First Steps to a Cochlear Implant

I have been deaf since the age of four – more than 60 years. In the early nineties, as executive director of VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children, I learned about the cochlear implant and how it could be used to greatly enhance a child’s hearing. There were implants for adults as well but, although I was most likely deaf enough, I did not want something foreign inside my head – too much like the bionic woman for me.

Besides I thought I was doing well. In truth though, I missed a lot. I was lulled by the unique security blanket that surrounded me while I was at VOICE. I worked with parents who understood the challenges of trying to hear. I had oral interpreters at board meetings and other group functions so I could follow the discussion. And I was surrounded by a whole host of professionals who gave me tips on the latest technology for hearing aid users.

At each annual review of my hearing status, the Otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) would suggest that I be tested for a cochlear implant. I always resisted. Not only would it be like the bionic woman, but what if it didn’t work? I’d be back to square one. I should tell you that I am generally an optimist, but when it came to cochlear implants, I wore the proverbial black cloud over my head and searched out all that could go wrong. I clearly wasn’t ready.

But I was getting older and missing more. In 2004 I decided to take the plunge and was tested for an implant. It took a lot of convincing for me to even go for testing so imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I just missed the cut. I could understand just a tad too well. My problem, if you could call it that, is that I had been practicing filling in the blanks for a very long time and was very good at it. So when I say that I understood too well, I was actually fudging – taking a guess. Not necessarily a good idea when being tested for an implant.

So here I was, all psyched up and ready to roll and I was turned down.

So I adapted. I went out less because hearing in any size group was very tiring. I stopped going to films and waited for them to be shown on television so I could watch them with captions. I tried to get smaller classes for my workshops and did fewer of them as well. I didn’t think to try cochlear implant testing again until the winter of 2011 when I noticed that I was having trouble with even a small group of 2 or 3. I had fudged for so many years that I truly didn’t think I was growing deafer. It just crept up on me.

I had my annual hearing checkup in the summer of 2011 and saw a brand new specialist. He glanced at my audiogram and said, “I think it’s time to look at a cochlear implant again.”

Sharing Stories of Hearing Loss

Hello. I’m glad you found my blog. Let me take a few minutes to let you know why I decided to write a blog and what I hope it will offer to you.

I have had a profound hearing loss since the age of four. I have experienced many of the highs and lows of hearing impairment through school, early careers and later in life. Over the years I have spoken with thousands of people who have hearing loss and have developed a lot of tips and shortcuts to successful communication without the angst.

I also know many professionals who are willing to share their expertise and plan to have some of them write articles for us.

And I am in the process of yet another big change in my ‘hearing impaired life’ as I will have surgery in August 2012 for a cochlear implant. So I plan to write about that journey as well.

My hope is that this blog will provide you with some information, perhaps a bit of insight and an opportunity to share your stories of frustrations and joys.

But this blog is not just for those of us who have hearing loss. It is also for those who live with us; for our friends; for children whose grandparents are deaf; and for professionals who want a better understanding of the challenges we face every day.

Please tell me what you think. I really look forward to hearing from you.