Monthly Archives: March 2013

Putting things in perspective

I met a father the other day who has a young son with a cochlear implant. He is doing well one year on – still struggling, but hearing better. The thing is, his first implant didn’t work. The surgeon had to do a second – a second operation and a second recovery coupled with a nagging concern that perhaps the second one wouldn’t work either. His dad talked about how hard it was not knowing what the outcome would be but they decided as a family that it was worth a try. And I know of another family of four that can count six implants in their family including two each for the parents as well as one for each child. Neither of the initial implants for the parents worked.

I was thinking about these two families this morning. When I reread last week’s post, it was with a touch of envy that the person who wrote about her cochlear implant could hear music right away. I was feeling rather sorry for myself as music is still a huge challenge for me. But that pales with the challenge of the youngster who was faced with a second surgery and the parents of two deaf children who surely wondered if they should put their children through major surgery knowing that it might not work.

I had no misgivings at all. It literally did not occur to me that the implant wouldn’t work. And aside from a few weeks of balance problems and the music issue, I have made steady progress. When I met the father of the young boy this past week, he talked about how courageous he felt I was for getting an implant at my age. But in my view, it is his son who is the courageous one to decide to go through this – twice.

A matter of perspective indeed.

More of your stories

This week we have stories from two people who use hearing aids, a family member and a person with a cochlear implant. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

Because the subway is so loud, I routinely turn off my hearing aids and then read the newspaper. One day the woman beside me spoke to me. I said, “Just a minute,” and started to turn on my hearing aids. She spoke again, but too soon. When I finally got them on she shouted, “Is the next stop Davisville?” I heard her then and about 25 people in the car shouted, “Yes”.
– C.

I wear two hearing aids although my loss is not supposed to be severe. The aids are supposed to cut out peripheral sounds but they certainly do not. To be in a meeting with several people or in a restaurant with loud music or any large room with an echo is frustrating. All the sounds bubble around and prevent hearing clearly what people are saying. I simply have to concentrate on one or two people and let it go at that.
– Shirley

As a person who lives with a spouse with a profound hearing loss I can speak from the other side of the story. My spouse has lived with hearing loss for 55 years and wears two powerful hearing aids and has a wireless microphone system. I wear the microphone or we put on a table or in front of the TV. It has been a godsend to us and makes communication so much easier. My issue is that I don’t always know when my spouse has heard me speak. Sometimes I assume that he does and then I learn he has no idea what I said. Other times he doesn’t respond and I assume he has not heard but when I say, “Did you hear me?” he says he did. Makes conversations challenging.
– E.

Several years ago we attended a workshop at a hospital for people with hearing aids and their relatives. It was frustrating to be told that all the onus was placed on the family and friends to speak up, to be patient, to face the person. There were no suggestions that some of the responsibility is on the person with the hearing aid to attend, to respond, to let people know when they are not hearing.
– E.

I was diagnosed with a hearing loss at the age of 25 but it was not a big problem for me as I was still able to use the telephone. I was employed in financial services. As soon as I could no longer use the telephone to talk with our clients I got downsized, but they called it ‘technology change’. So I just went into a shell and felt useless. For about two years I didn’t go to the bank or grocery shopping because I was so afraid of someone talking to me and I wouldn’t understand.

I went to work for Canada Post as a letter carrier-clerk and was there for 12 years. At the age of 59 I got a cochlear implant and life became more normal for me.

I remember the day my implant was activated. I was so thrilled I went to my car and put the radio on. Big mistake! I could hear the news and music very well and could understand the words. But then a fire truck came up behind me and I didn’t hear the siren so they came really close and blared the horn so loud I panicked and couldn’t move out of the way. I didn’t know whether to go left or right or go ahead so I stopped in my lane and the fire fighter was really upset with me until he heard me say that I am deaf. I usually make good use of mirrors, but this day I was so happy with my implant, and hearing things I hadn’t heard in a very long time, that I got spellbound.
– Annie

Do these stories sound familiar to you? Do you have other stories – either as someone with a hearing loss or a family member or friend? Send me your story. It’s easy. Just click the ‘comments’ button below and give me your first name and email address and we’ll get started.
I look forward to hearing from you

Stories of hearing loss – now it’s your turn

Last week I asked for your stories about hearing loss and I have heard from three of you already. Here is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about hearing loss.

Your Stories

I have had a hearing loss for many, many years and I do wear a hearing aid. I have a great frustration with public speakers who do not and will not use a microphone when one is available and say, “I’m sure everyone can hear me.”
– Howard

I have several of the frustrations mentioned [in the March 10, 2013 post] – especially the problem of being with a group when several people might be speaking at the same time. Another problem area for me is people turning away as they are speaking to me – especially if they are totally turned away, then all I hear is ‘noise’. I also have a problem at a conference or in a lecture hall and also in church when the speaker from the front of the room turns a bit from side to side. I really only hear clearly when a person faces directly towards me.
– Jan

Very common I’m sure. It took me a long time to admit that I needed hearing aids. Finally agreed to get tested but was confident it was a waste of time. Was a bit shocked when the doctor said “significant hearing loss”.
Generally quite happy with the hearing aids though some sounds [e.g., kitchen noises] are jarring. I do wear them all day, every day.
One advantage I recently made use of was while attending a concert and finding the music to be uncomfortably loud. “Ta da,” I took out the hearing aids and enjoyed the rest of the concert in comfort.
– Tom

Do these stories sound familiar to you? Do you have other stories – either as someone with a hearing loss or a family member or friend? Send me your story. It’s easy. Just click the ‘comments’ button below and give me your first name and email address and we’ll get started.

I look forward to hearing from you.

I want to hear from you!

I would like to hear your stories – as a person with a hearing loss or as someone who lives with or is close to a person with a hearing loss.

My hope is that I will receive an embarrassment of riches and we can begin to start a conversation online with those who read my blog.

To get you thinking, it might help to have some examples. Several years ago I taught a rehab course for a group of adults who were newly deaf and their families. We talked about the challenges of being deaf and of living with someone struggling to hear.

Here are some of the frustrations those with a hearing loss identified:

• Several people talking at once around the dinner table.
• Cracking paper – it interferes with other sounds.
• Hollering or mumbling rather than speaking clearly.
• Feeling a burden asking others to repeat.
• ‘Sizzling’ car sounds. [I’m not sure what this is but it does sound rather dangerous!]
• Talking as soon as they come in the door. I can’t hear a thing!

Some frustrations experienced by their family members included:

• Refusing to consider hearing aids. [This can be a huge challenge as hearing loss often creeps up on you and it takes a while for the person with the loss to realize they are losing their hearing.]
• Disputes about sound levels for television, radio and other electronics.
• Not paying attention to what I am saying.
• He won’t wear his hearing aids.
• I’m unsure how to help.

Do any of these situations sound familiar? Are there other challenges you would like to share?

If you or a member of your family, immediate or extended, has a hearing loss and you would like to share your stories, please let me know. Or you may have grown up in a family where a parent, grandparent or sibling had a hearing loss. Or you could be a good friend with someone who is deaf and want to share your particular perspective. You can write about the highs and lows, the celebrations and the challenges, the frustrations and the sadness.

You can send me a few sentences or you can write several paragraphs. Whatever you want to share will be welcome.

I will keep your identity private unless you wish to be acknowledged and appreciate your willingness to contribute your story so that others can learn from your experiences.

Here’s how you do it. Send me your first name and email address through the ‘leave a comment’ section below so that we can correspond. I will write back to you, start the conversation and we’re off to the races!

I look forward to hearing your stories. I know I will learn a great deal from you.

Rosemary Pryde

Factors which affect our ability to understand speech – Part 1

Why we all have difficulty hearing and understanding sounds, in particular speech, from time-to-time: Factors which affect our ability to understand speech – Part 1

Most people encounter difficult listening situations every day; situations when they can hear speech and/or noise but they can’t always decipher and understand what the sounds mean. There are many factors which challenge our ability to hear and understand speech. I will explain some of those factors in this post.

First, though, in a previous post I explained the anatomy of the ear and how we hear. For those readers who may not have seen that post, a quick review is warranted.

If you think a picture of the auditory or hearing system would be helpful while you read this post, simply, type, “anatomy/images of the ear” into your favourite browser and you will see many links that will provide you with pictures of the ear.

The ear per se is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the parts of the ear that you can examine visually and includes the ear canal and the ear drum.

Just beyond the ear drum is the middle ear which is a space about the size of a pea. The middle ear contains the three smallest bones in the human body, the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup). These bones together are called the ossicular chain which is attached to the ear drum at one end and the oval window at the other end. Also, the middle ear is connected to the back of the throat by the Eustacean tube.

The purpose of the middle ear is to make sure that sounds get from the outer ear to the inner ear accurately and to equalize the pressure in the environment around us with the pressure in the middle ear so the ossicular chain can vibrate as it should.

The inner ear (cochlea) is a snail-shell shaped, fluid-filled cavity in the temporal bone of the skull. It is filled with a special fluid and hundreds of thousands of tiny hair cells which change the vibrations from the middle ear into electrical impulses which are sent along the auditory nerve to the brain.

I consider the brain to be the fourth and a very important part of the auditory or hearing system. Without the brain you wouldn’t be able to understand what all the electrical impulses from the inner ear mean.

So, how do we hear? Sounds are conducted from the environment around us down our ear canals, causing the ear drums to vibrate. The movement of the ear drums cause the ossicular chains (in the middle ear) to vibrate against the oval windows which sit between the middle ear and the inner ear. Generally speaking, the movement of the ossicular chains helps to determine the power (loudness) of the sounds which are sent to the brain.

The vibrations of the oscciular chain are conducted into the inner ears and are changed into electrical impulses by hundreds of thousands of inner hair cells. The electrical impulses are sent along the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex in the brain. It is the brain’s responsibility to receive the electrical impulses and make them meaningful to us so that we hear and understand what is being said by the listener.

Simply put, the ear is the mechanism that sends the sounds to the brain. The brain is the mechanism that helps us decipher and understand what the sounds mean. I constantly marvel at how this system works to help us communicate with others!

Even with normal hearing there are obstacles which interfere with our ability to listen. We may hear sounds around us but we can’t always decipher what the sounds mean.

Some of the factors that may interfere with out listening include; but are not limited to:

1. The loudness of the sounds. Is the speaker whispering or is s/he talking over the extraneous environmental sounds?

2. The distance the sounds are made from the ears. Is the listener close to the speaker making it easy to hear and interpret the message or is the listener a distance from the speaker so that the listener is aware that the speaker is saying something, but can’t make out what is being said? Is the speaker talking next to the listener or is the speaker calling from another room or floor in a house?

3. The extraneous noise that is between the sound source and the ears. Are the speaker and listener in a quiet cozy corner with a little bit of extra noise or are the speaker and the listener in a crowded, noisy place making it hard to hear and interpret what the speaker is saying?

4. How clearly the speaker is talking. Does the speaker speak softly and mumble or does s/he enunciate words so they are easier to hear and interpret?

5. How interested the listener is in what the speaker is staying. Is the speaker entertaining and telling the listener something new or is the speaker telling a boring story that the listener has heard many times before?

6.How tired the listener is and able to hear and decipher what is being said. Is the listener interested and alert to conversation even in a noisy environment or is the listen tired and thinking about other things while trying to listen to the speaker?

7. And, the condition of the “listening environment”. Are there wall hangings on the walls and carpets on the floor or, is the room decorated with tiles and bricks which reflect the sound waves and make it more difficult to hear?

Hearing and understanding become more and more difficult as the listening conditions become more challenging.

Now, add a hearing loss to the mix and it is no wonder that, in many circumstances, people with hearing loss have trouble hearing and subsequently, understanding. Often they will tell you that they can hear something but they can’t understand what they are hearing.

But, that’s a topic to be addressed in future posts. Stay tuned.

If you have not already done so, you might find it helpful to read my previous posts. To a certain extent I have designed my posts sequentially, although the information in each post does “stand alone” and can help you understand more about hearing and hearing loss. Enjoy!

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 health care professional.