Anne Taylor is a bilateral cochlear implant user, a Gallaudet Certified Peer Mentor for the Hard of Hearing. She is President of the Hearing Loss Association of America – Sarasota/Manatee Chapter and writes a monthly column. Here is last month’s column
Loud Music Can Damage Your Ears
Everywhere we go we see teenagers with headphones and earbuds. I often wonder how loud their music is, as well as what it is.
Are they are playing the music all day long at an unsafe volume? Are they putting themselves at risk of losing their hearing by listening to sounds that are way too loud?
Over the holidays, I went with my family to a live concert – a special treat for them – a novelty for me. I was astounded by how very loud the music was. The theater seemed to be shaking. My ears were hurting for days afterwards. As my hearing has already disappeared, I was not at risk of losing it. However, I was surprised that my ears hurt afterwards. I thought about the folks who attend concerts frequently. They are exposed to loud sounds for long periods of time, perhaps unknowingly putting their hearing at risk.
The statistics are alarming. They show that there is an increase in teenagers experiencing signs of hearing loss. Listening to loud music through earbuds, headphones and at concerts at unsafe levels can damage the hair cells in the ears. When these hair cells (cilia) are damaged, permanent hearing loss is the result. While there is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening devices may give a sense of hearing.
Jaynee Handelsman, Ph.D., director of pediatric audiology for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital says, “What was surprising about a recent national poll on children’s health results was the overwhelming support for required hearing screening for older children and teenagers. Hearing screening for tweens and teens is uncommon. However, as the parents in our poll recognize, children in these age groups may develop hearing loss as time goes on, possibly from extended listening to loud noise, such as through personal, portable listening devices like MP3 players. Exposure to loud music through earbuds, headphones and personal audio devices can be damaging, but the duration of sound can be just as damaging. If children are constantly bombarded with sound – from music players, computers, televisions, video games – they reach a point where they’ve heard too much”.
How do we solve this problem?
Leslie Lesner, Au.D., FAAA, CCC-A says, “Several manufacturers have earbuds and headphones with output-limiting volume controls that allow you to enjoy the music while limiting long-term damage to your hearing. Some have tips that seal the ear canals preventing outside sounds from interfering with the music, allowing you to get great sound quality, but at safe volumes. There are also many noises we come across in our daily lives that might be unsafe – the sound of a gas lawn mower, an ambulance siren, a live music concert, or even the school cafeteria. Earplugs or earmuffs can protect your hearing from these noises. You will still be able to hear the sounds, but at a safe level. There are many sizes and types of ear protection available, and you can even see your audiologist about getting custom earplugs that are molded to fit your ear. Listening to music at above 85dB is considered unsafe. And even at that 85dB limit, you must listen to less than eight hours of music/talk/games per day if you want to keep your hearing”.
How Loud is Too Loud? (noiseyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov)
140-165 dB Firecracker, shotgun firing
140 dB Jet taking off
120 dB Ambulance siren
110 dB Rock concert, symphony orchestra
Permanent hearing loss may result after regular exposure of more than one minute at or above 110 decibels.
105 dB Personal stereo at maximum level
100 dB Woodshop, snowmobile
No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels is recommended.
90 dB Power mower
85 dB Heavy city traffic, school cafeteria
Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 dB can cause gradual hearing loss.
75 dB Dishwasher
60 dB Normal conversation
40 dB Refrigerator
30 dB Whisper
0 dB Smallest sound a person with normal hearing can detect
For more information, visit noiseyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov.
You do not have to face hearing loss alone. Please contact the local chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) where you will find education, information, support and advocacy from the members and mentors. Visit hlas.org or call 941-244-0452.
ADA Helps People with Hearing Loss Stay Connected
With the recent passing of George H. W. Bush, I thought about how he had made a difference to people with disabilities by signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA covers many disabilities, including hearing loss.
In the workplace, the ADA says that ‘reasonable accommodation’ must be made to people with hearing loss. The ADA requires that employers with 15 or more employees provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.
In this age of technology, it would be reasonable for an employer to provide amplified or captioned phones to people with hearing loss or, at least, allow a person to bring his/her own. These phones would allow a qualified person to perform a higher-level job. It is, of course, necessary for us folks with hearing loss to educate ourselves about which accommodations would work best. It would not be reasonable to ask the busy boss to spend time investigating for us. We know what we need and must be prepared to present the cost, how and where to obtain the necessary devices. People with hearing loss can demonstrate we are able to do the job, with the appropriate accommodations.
We can and should ask for a quiet space away from noisy air conditioners, coffee and ice machines. We can request a quiet corner away from the general noise. If our job is to operate noisy machinery, then we simply wear ear plugs. According to Wikipedia, an earplug is a device that is meant to be inserted in the ear canal to protect the user’s ears from loud noises or the intrusion of water, foreign bodies, dust or excessive wind.
If we can’t hear people coming in behind us, then a strategically-placed mirror would show us if someone enters the room. We can’t always hear fire alarms – no problem to install ones with flashing lights. We can request text or email messages, then we read what we can’t hear. Of course, we need to be able to do the job. It would be no use to apply for a job as a pilot if we do not know how to fly a plane. Hearing loss or not.
How do people know we cannot hear? They don’t, until we tell them. I know it takes a lot of courage to admit to hearing loss. I have had hearing loss since I was five years old and ‘admitting’ it is still challenging for me. I just don’t want to do it and face comments like, “But you don’t look deaf!” or “I am sooooo sorry!” How do I look deaf? Wear a ‘D’ on my forehead? And, people do not need to say they are sorry as my hearing problem is not their fault.
We can choose to be amused by these comments and be willing to tell people how best to communicate with us. I know from experience that many people do not know how to handle us folks with hearing problems. Simply say, “I don’t hear well. I read lips and do better if you face me.”
We wear our cochlear implants or hearing aids and use our ALDs. These listening devices need to be worn and fitted with working batteries. They do not work if they are in the drawer (ITD) or in the pocket (ITP).
There are three alternative approaches to expressing your needs:
We can be passive and not say or do anything. We remain isolated, withdrawn and lonely.
We can be aggressive and demanding that people should make allowances for us. We can loudly monopolize the conversation because we can’t hear.
We can be assertive (not aggressive) by speaking pleasantly in a conversational tone, making eye contact and suggesting to the employer which device would help us hear more clearly.
We will find if we take the third option, people will be only too glad to help. Our employers will see we can perform the job with appropriate accommodations and offer that promotion we deserve.
Thank you to George H.W. Bush for helping provide equality and inclusion to people with disabilities.
My partner can’t hear me!
Are you constantly repeating? “Honey, I just told you three times!”
Do you get frustrated and even angry? “You’re not listening to me!”
You notice he/she does not reply when you call from another room. You think – Is he/she deliberately ignoring me?
In a noisy environment, he/she keeps asking for clarification while preventing you from hearing what is being said. You tell them, “Shhh, I’m listening.” Or, “I’ll tell you later.”
Turn right dear. Dear turns left! He/she contorts his/her head to hear with the good ear. His/her contortion is not amusing or attractive. It’s irritating.
You mention they may need a hearing test. He/she says, “You’re mumbling; there is nothing wrong with me!”
Partner avoids social events and you want to go. Sound familiar?
It is challenging for both partners when one of them cannot hear. Hearing loss is a family problem. It does not just affect the person with hearing loss.
Here are a few hints which may save your marriage!
- Face the person with hearing loss while talking and avoid covering your face. He/she needs to read your lips.Try to speak clearly and normally – enunciating every word.
- Be careful not to come over as angry or condescending.
- Avoid mumbling. It is hard for the person with hearing loss to hear at the best of times.
- Try not to shout. Shouting does not help. It distorts the face and makes it more difficult to understand what you’re saying, as well as giving the appearance of anger. None of us like to be shouted at, and it really is not helpful to a person with hearing loss.
- Try to moderate your speaking pace – not too fast and not too slow. Speaking too fast is difficult to follow. Speak clearly, but not overly-slowly. People with hearing loss have lost their hearing, not their IQ. There is no need to exaggerate the mouth as if you were applying lipstick.
- Make sure you have their attention before speaking to the person with hearing loss. Say the person’s name or touch their arm before continuing with the conversation or you will find yourself becoming frustrated because you will need to repeat the whole thing. Your partner needs to be facing you right from the beginning or he/she is going to miss the first sentence and become totally lost.
- At social gatherings, keep an eye on your spouse. You can usually tell if he/she is not getting everything. Try to draw him/her into the conversation by asking a question relating to the topic being discussed. Even with all the wonderful hearing aids, cochlear implants, listening devices, some situations (loud restaurants and parties) remain very challenging.
- If the event becomes too challenging for the spouse, he/she may choose to go home. You, the hearing spouse, can simply say, “Sorry, he /she is having trouble hearing.” That’s it – plain and simple. People will understand.
- Get to the restaurant or social gathering early so you can choose a seat away from the kitchen and the band. Choosing a seat with a back to the wall and window makes it easier for your spouse to lip read.
- Try to hang on to your patience. The person with hearing loss is not asking for repeats just for the fun of it or to be annoying. He/she has simply not heard what you said. Hearing aids help a lot, but they are not perfect. Be kind and repeat what you said. If the person with hearing loss still cannot understand, then rephrasing can be helpful.
Happy Holidays and I hope the hints save at least one marriage!
Out of This World – Part 4
When we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, I was wearing an analog hearing aid in the left ear. There was not much hearing in the right ear. However, my new hearing aid dealer recommended I try wearing a hearing aid in that almost-deaf ear, as she felt it might give me a little boost in hearing, as well as help with balance. I did follow her recommendation and yes, it made a difference. If I forgot to wear the second aid, I missed it.
I was really excited to be offered the position of a full-time French teacher at Laney High School, which was close to my new neighborhood. Even though my daughter expressed concern about discipline problems, I knew that students who took languages were motivated and would listen to me. Was I ever wrong! My students quickly noticed I had a hearing problem, and would leave me notes, suggesting I contact Beltone! They did just about anything to stop me teaching, taking full advantage of my deteriorating hearing. Every day was a nightmare, and I dreaded what they would do next.
While still at Laney High School, I had been fortunate to be fitted with state-of-the-art digital hearing aids. These hearing aids were such an improvement over the analogs, as they could be computer programmed to resolve many of the problems I was experiencing, such as too loud rattling dishes and intolerable background noise.
Unfortunately, the hearing aid lady was from the old school and not too familiar with the computer. Sometimes I would break down in her office with the frustration of not being able to hear. She would tap furiously on the keyboard – trying to make the aids better for me. Very often, she would make them worse! Frequently, I left the office to the unbearably loud noise of traffic and air conditioners – everything was too much! I had no choice but to return, where she would tell me she had accidentally deleted my previous program! Fortunately, her daughter came into the business and was much more comfortable making computerized adjustments to the hearing aids.
After years of struggling to cope at the school, I quit. I was at the end of my rope and, highly embarrassed, I sought the help of a counselor. I remember my first visit there – I just flopped onto the couch and sobbed. Everything had become too much for me to handle. I pondered the difference between the attitudes of my former adult students at the community college and the students at the high school. The community college students paid for the class and were eager to learn – they made teaching so much fun. The high school students did not pay for the class and did not want to learn. I felt depressed and angry because my dream job had become a nightmare.
Around this time, our two children left home – our daughter, Allison, for college and our son, Richard, for the military. I did miss them terribly.
Allison visited after I had quit working at the school. She knew I was not doing well and suggested I join a gym in order to feel better. I was intimidated by the machines and by those buff, lean bodies in there. No way was I going to join a gym! I reluctantly tagged along while she asked the appropriate questions. Somehow, I found myself signing a contract and dragging my poor out-of-shape body to the classes.
Her insistence that I join a gym was one of the best things to happen to me. I exercised regularly and started to feel good. I felt happier and more in control of myself. After two years of counseling, Doctor Catherine told me I needed a best friend to talk to – I did not need her any longer. I had come a long way from the tearful, trembling, depressed, non-functioning woman she had met two years earlier. She convinced me I had been a good teacher, and that no one could have controlled those students, as they did not want to be controlled.
Out of a job, I had time to exercise and to become more involved in tennis. I had fun and was happy. Friends were always willing to face me while talking with me. I managed fairly well on a one-to-one basis, with my excellent lip-reading skills and two digital hearing aids. However, I could not hear from far away, in noisy environments, and only marginally on the phone. Television was no longer a problem, thanks to closed captioning.
Allison and Richard had beautiful weddings. Family and friends, from many corners of the world, were reunited. While experiencing much happiness, joy and fun, I remember not being able to hear the services, bluffing, nodding and smiling my way through the receptions. No one noticed my hearing loss, did they?
Two grandchildren came along, and I had no problems hearing them when they were babies. It was easy to respond to their cries. As they began to talk, I was not able to understand what they were saying. The children had difficulty understanding why Grandma did not respond appropriately, despite their mommy’s efforts to explain that Grandma cannot hear.
We moved to Atlanta in 2008 and I was hired by the YMCA for two part-time jobs – one to maintain the tennis courts and the other to work on the front desk. Maintaining the tennis courts was no problem, as I did not need to hear to do that. However, the front desk job was mostly answering the phone and dealing with people at the counter. My hearing by then had declined to nothing in the right ear and to 8% in the left ear. I felt humiliated and embarrassed that I had to tell the director I could not hear well enough to do the job efficiently. However, I still maintained the tennis courts.
During Spring Break 2009, I took care of the children and was not able to hear them while I was driving the van. I’m sure my replies confused them! Needless to say, I felt terrible.
In April 2009, I was desperate to meet people in Atlanta. I discovered the Hearing Loss of America Association. I went to my first meeting, was welcomed with open arms by the members of the chapter, and I soon learned I was one of 36 million Americans with some level of hearing loss. While at this meeting, I noticed several members were wearing cochlear implants and appeared to be hearing very well – some not lip-reading while taking notes! I began to wonder if a cochlear implant would work for me, despite having been told years previously that I would never be able to use one.
I had nothing to lose. I was unhappy and lonely. I was becoming anti-social and reclusive, because I was afraid to talk to people knowing I would not be able to hear what they said. I went to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor, who tested my hearing from a soundproof box. He told me my hearing was terrible and to take out the hearing aid from my right ear, as it was doing no good at all. The good news was that my hearing was poor enough for me to be a possible candidate for a cochlear implant! I went through a series of tests to determine if I qualified.
Finally, I was declared a candidate for a cochlear implant! I received my first CI in August 2009 and was activated about a month later, only to be disappointed to hear xylophone rings and birdie whistles. I lip-read the audiologist, as she repeatedly asked me if I could hear her voice and I said ‘no’. I finally realized when she stopped talking, the birdie whistles stopped. Those were her voice! I thought I had made a terrible mistake and was ready to jump on my CI processor. As instructed by the ENT, I took out the hearing aid and wore only the CI in order to train the brain to hear with that dormant right ear. After a couple of weeks, the birdie whistles changed to chipmunk voices, which graduated to more human sounds. Goodbye Chipmunks!
In September 2010, I was implanted with a second cochlear implant and on activation, I could hear immediately. No birdie whistles! No xylophone rings! It took just a day or two before voices sounded normal. The better ear (accustomed to hearing with a hearing aid) adjusted much more quickly than the first totally deaf ear. After training my new ear, I was able to wear both implants at the same time. Wow! Sounds are very full now, and I have more directional hearing. I can hear voices from another room, people behind me. I am starting to pick out words in songs. I hear the radio, jingling of keys, patter of rain, click of a switch.
Today, my behavior is different. I welcome human contact and no longer hope that people will not talk to me. I come across as a person with a mild hearing loss. But, I am still deaf especially, when I take the CIs off at night – then total silence. I now have the choice of being a hearing person sitting at the side of the pool, or a deaf person swimming in the pool.
My journey began with feeling literally ‘out of this world’, as I struggled with profound sensorineural hearing loss. I am now experiencing the amazing miracle of hearing with two totally deaf ears. For me, the bilateral cochlear implant experience is truly ‘out of this world’.
Out of This World – Part 3
Here we were in the United States of America, the perfect family – pursuing the American Dream!
Staying at home with two children was good for me from a hearing point of view. I was able to hear them quite well and, as we all know, small children are very good at saying (or yelling!) over and over again until they get a response.
We wound up in Florida after living in Chicago for about a year. Needless to say, Florida was like paradise to us after a very long, cold, snowy winter in Chicago!
When Allison was 3 or 4 years old, she would answer the phone and tell me who it was, and what they wanted. She was a very bright little girl and not at all intimidated by the phone. If we needed a babysitter, she would call and repeat the arrangements we needed. She was already very confident and, by helping me with the phone, she became even more so. Today, she speaks extremely clearly, and she says that she had to speak clearly for me to understand her. It is nice to know that having a hearing loss can actually be helpful to someone!
My son, Richard, would take a message occasionally – unfortunately, he did not always get the names and details quite right! I remember we had friends named Vedova and he used to tell me Mrs. Bedoba had called. I would say, “What did she want?” “Oh, I dunno,” he would say.
Strangely enough, Richard was, and still is, an excellent lip-reader – a skill no doubt learned as a result of having a hearing-impaired mom.
While I was a stay-at-home mom, I learned to play tennis. I enjoyed playing and would keep the score in my head, as I was not always able to hear it from the other side of the net. I found tennis was something I could enjoy without worrying about whether or not I would hear everything. We ladies would chat a bit on changeovers, and I enjoyed the camaraderie with lip-reading and the use of my analog hearing aid.
The children were established in local schools and I found myself teaching adult education at a local community college several evenings a week. My students were adults and made teaching French a pleasure. They actually begged for homework assignments! Many of these adults were my friends and the hearing problem proved to be no big deal. They would accommodate me by looking into my face to make sure I knew what they said.
As I enjoyed teaching French so much, I decided to go back to school and finish my degree, in order to be able to obtain a full-time job at a school. I attended the University of Florida – part-time – so that I was able to be home when the children got off the school bus. The children thought it was neat that Mom had homework too! We would all sit at the dining table doing homework.
Going to the university in the 80s, with a profound hearing loss, was an enormous challenge. I was not aware of note-takers, interpreters, ALDs, FM systems, and CART. Of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was not passed until 1990, so, very likely, providing accommodations for disabled people was unheard of at that time. I always sat in the front row and read what I had missed (pretty much the same as I did in high school). Some of my science classes were just way over my head, and I would take a tape-recorder along to class. My ever-patient husband, who is interested in science, mathematical and technical subjects, would listen to the tape and tell me what the instructor had said. Bless his heart! It was very time-consuming, but it worked.
I was taking a one-credit course in spoken French language, which was all listening on tapes. I was utterly miserable, as I was not able to lip-read, or to follow along at all. Also, the hearing aid would squeal loudly when I tried to use the headphones. I soon decided to give up that class. A neighbor once said to me, “Anne, why on earth are you studying French when you have a hearing problem?” He had a good point, didn’t he? The only reply was, “Because I like French!” After graduation, I was unable to find a teaching job in a small town in Florida and substituted when needed.
Going to parties, social functions, and family gatherings and to the movies was becoming increasingly more challenging, as my hearing continued to deteriorate.
The year Allison graduated, we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, I was fortunate to be a substitute French teacher, at a high school very close to my new neighborhood. The French teacher retired, and I was excited to be offered her position! My daughter was concerned for me about the student discipline problems in high schools. I told her I would be fine, as only motivated kids wanted to be in the language classes. I knew I would have no problems. I did not need to answer the phone in a classroom, and the students would listen to me, wouldn’t they?
Join me next time in part 4 – the last one – to discover the challenge of teaching. Hear about my journey towards two analog hearing aids; upgrading to state-of-the-art digital hearing aids, and finally into the amazing miracle of cochlear implants.
Out of this World – Part 2
It was a sobering experience working at the education office in Ripley, Derbyshire. I knew I had really impressed the people who interviewed me for the job of junior clerk and was hoping that I would be able to figure out enough of what was said on the telephone to get by. No way! Hearing on the phone was impossible and, very quickly, the small staff realized what a problem they had just acquired. Needless to say, it was extremely embarrassing and humiliating for me especially, when I was declared ‘disabled’ at 16 years old.
As a junior clerk, my duties were filing, copying, typing, mailing and making the afternoon tea at precisely 3:00 PM. No problem there as I did not need to hear to perform these duties. The fact that the senior clerk had to take the phone calls made me feel awful as that was supposed to be part of my job. The decision was made by the staff of the education office to fit me with a hearing aid.
My mom took me to Derby to a hearing aid supplier. After much testing, the hearing aid was fitted. Having the mold filling the whole inside of my ear was very uncomfortable. I was told I would ‘get used to it’. It felt like a swimmer’s earplug – the kind you wear in the pool and are very thankful to remove after swimming. No taking it out for me. The hearing aid was hooked behind the ear and switched on. I was all set.
Mom and I went upstairs on the double-decker bus for the half-hour return trip home. The noise of the bus was intolerable, but I knew ‘I would get used to it’. Suddenly, there was the most terribly loud noise behind me! I grabbed my mom’s arm. ‘Whatever is the matter?’ she asked. I told her about that terrible noise behind me. It took her a minute to realize that it was someone coughing in the seat behind me. Of course, she had always been hearing noises like that and was used to filtering them out. It really scared me – it sounded just so very foreign and loud.
This coughing was the first of many noises that would come through the hearing aid. Dishes rattling, water running, traffic noise, beating batter in a bowl. Every day noises were a continuous cacophony of horrific loud unrecognizable sounds. Some days the noises were so harsh-sounding, I had to take out the hearing aid to give my ear and head a break. Over time, I did learn to tolerate and recognize many of the sounds with the help of lip reading.
The hearing aid made sounds louder, but not always clearer. It was like listening to a foreign language. I heard but could not understand. Apparently, I hear vowel sounds but not the consonants. With the hearing aid and the lip reading, my quality of life did improve. However, I still could not hear well on the phone, as I could not read the speaker’s lips.
The hearing aid had problems like squealing and making static noises, which were most unpleasant to the ear and, of course, embarrassing when people would hear the squealing and say, “what is that noise?”.
I remember one boyfriend – a teddy boy complete with velvet lapels, drainpipe trousers, hot pink socks, winkle picker shoes and long side burns. Mom and Dad did not approve at all, but I thought he was wonderfully handsome with his black hair and blue eyes. And he rode a motorbike! One evening, after two or three dates, we were waiting at the bus stop when he leaned towards me for our first kiss. The closer he got the louder the hearing aid squealed. He jumped back like he had been burned. “What was that?” he asked. “Nothing” said I. Horror of horrors – he had figured out that it was a hearing aid and that I was deaf. I never saw him again!
Most boyfriends did not mind though and I married a very patient and loving guy named Chris. However, there were times when he felt I was deliberately ignoring him when I was not hearing him. I think many years went by before he realized how deaf I am.
Another problem I remember – he had a transistor radio and he could not understand that to me it was just an awful noise. I felt quite left out when he would listen to his transistor radio! But then, I was only a very young 20-year-old.
We moved around England quite a bit when my husband changed jobs. These moves were always challenging for both of us, but especially for me trying to get hired. Mostly, I would hide the hearing problem and deal with the consequences later. It usually worked out that I could avoid answering the phone. I worked in large government offices with more than enough people who were willing and able to answer the phone while I performed other duties. I could handle people face to face at the counter because of my excellent lip-reading skills.
Going out with friends or to the movies proved to be a problem. I would sit there and watch people talking and laughing – and just pretend I knew what was happening. They are all laughing – uh oh; I had better start laughing too. Chris usually told me what I had missed on the way home.
It was very frustrating, as I wanted to know at the time and be part of the conversation.
Our last move in England was to Manchester, where we bought a tiny bungalow. In there was a terrifying looking black object – a telephone!
In our previous homes, there had been no phone and I had been safe. Now, there sat that threatening big black phone. It was so stressful trying to answer it if I was home by myself. Usually, Chris would answer it. It was not a happy feeling for me having to rely on him to deal with all our friendly, business and travel calls. Back then, there was no caller ID or voice mail. People used to run to catch the phone.
During our time in Manchester, I suspected I was pregnant and the doctor had suggested that I drop off today’s sample on my way to work. A few days later, Chris and I rang the office together on the same phone and I managed to hear the word ‘positive’. I was pregnant!
A few months later, Chris obtained a job in the USA. Talk of challenging, this was the biggest challenge of all so far. My grandma said, “Tell him you are not going”. I was expecting the family’s first grandchild. What to do? Chris really wanted to take the job because it was such a giant pay increase and he felt our lives – at least financially – would be far better than in England.
We moved to New York City in November 1974 into an apartment. Would I be ok in this strange country? Would I be able to get the hearing aid fixed? I already knew I would not be able to hear on the phone in the apartment or anywhere else.
Through the excitement and fun of living in New York City, there was always this worry of not being able to hear. Someone once said to me that I had let the deafness become who I am. Was there really a choice? Deafness sure can eat away at one’s confidence. A few months later, our baby girl, Allison, was born in a New York City hospital. While in the hospital, I remember the nurses looking at me in total confusion and frustration. I was not wearing the hearing aid and the phone was ringing away on my bedside table. They just did not understand why I was not answering it.
The baby slept in a pram in the hallway of our tiny apartment and Chris would hear her in the night. He has really been my ears through the years. A few months later, we moved to West Virginia and bought one of those baby listening alerts as Allison now had her own room. I put it close to my head and could actually hear the baby cry with it. However, Allison has a good set of lungs and could scream loudly! I was a stay-at-home mom and the hearing problem was manageable, as I did not have to hear on the phone to do the job. A one-on-one relationship with the baby worked out well.
Two years later, we had a baby boy, Richard. He was born in Huntington, West Virginia. I had met a few friends at the community pool and one of them took care of Allison during the time in the hospital. At that time, I had been wearing a hearing aid for 13 years!
Did it work? Yes, to some extent. With the combination of lip reading and wearing the hearing aid, my quality of life had improved.
Watch for part 3 of this article and you will find out what it was like raising children, going back to school to get a degree in French and getting a teaching job while coping with a profound hearing loss.
Out of this World – Part 1
“You are deaf, aren’t you?”
I was six years old sitting in a classroom in elementary school when the teacher, Mrs. Emerson, said this.
I looked around and saw every kid in the class was looking at me! The teacher couldn’t have been talking to me, could she?
This was the first time I was actually made aware that I was different from most people – I had assumed that everyone read lips to understand speech. I remember telling my mom she was not listening to me as she had her eyes closed!
Oh, the embarrassment, the hurt, the pain of being told in front of the whole class that I was deaf.
Looking back now, I remember being in the five-year-old class, where I was wondering why we were all standing in a line. Maybe the other five-year olds did not know why either – or maybe did because they heard why.
Back then, hearing tests were not performed on children or babies. My parents were never sure if I could hear as a small child, or if I was ignoring them. But after a botched tonsillectomy and a bad case of mumps at five years old, my mom worried.
Mrs. Emerson’s “You are deaf, aren’t you?” confirmed mom’s suspicions that I could not hear well. My dad never could accept that his kid had something wrong with her and always said “she can hear when she wants to!”
What to do? England was recovering from World War II – rebuilding bombed-out towns, trying to feed people and finding employment for returning soldiers. Lack of money and technology meant there was very little progress in the field of hearing problems. There were no special schools in the area, so regular school was the order of the day. I was taunted by the other kids as not being very bright “does not even know her own name” and being excluded from games and school plays because “she doesn’t know what is going on”.
If the majority of the class raised its hand, then I would raise mine. Actually, I missed out on swimming lessons because of raising a hand when the teacher must have said “raise your hand if you can swim”.
Documentary films were shown (no captioning, of course). I was always amazed that my class mates knew the answers to questions asked by teachers at the end of the film. I just watched the picture while they were watching and listening, or shall I say, hearing.
I remember struggling to hear a children’s show – the volume turned all the way up and my ear pressed close to the radio. It was a two o’ clock show that came on every day. The lovely lady used to say “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin”.
It was not much fun growing up deaf. But, help was on its way! At ten years old, I was fitted with my first hearing aid. Yeah, a hearing aid did exist back then! And, no, it was not a horn! It was a three-piece model – mold in the ear, attached to a curly wire leading to a five-inch square microphone, clipped onto the chest, and powered by two huge batteries in a leather case which was strapped around the waist. The teacher told the other students that the case was for my handkerchief.
Despite its impressive size, the hearing aid did not help me. When I moved, there was a rustling, static sound caused by my clothing. An unbearable noise! However, the teachers insisted I wear this aid and I did – with it switched off! At least they were satisfied.
That was elementary school.
Secondary school came next with different teachers and I took advantage of the wonderful opportunity to ditch this awful hearing aid! I made it through by sitting on the front row, reading lips and reading up on what I missed.
Reading lips came naturally to me and I was, and still am, a very good lip reader. Despite the deafness, I enjoyed foreign languages and took French and German and actually did well in those subjects – much better than math or science!
I did the usual teenage stuff – dated boys and “listened” to music. I memorized the words and followed along so as not to look too “square” – especially in dance halls.
After graduation, I successfully interviewed for a job at the local education office – lip reading all the way and hiding the deafness. Of course, my colleagues soon realized I had a severe hearing problem when I couldn’t hear on the phone. I was told that I would be registered ‘disabled’. However, in order to help me perform my duties, the education department obtained the necessary funds to fit me with my first analogue behind-the-ear hearing aid.
How was it?
“Out of this world” continues in the September Listen!Up.
Hearing Aids/Cochlear Implants Like to Be Dry
Summer time is filled with traveling, picnics, ball games, swimming, boating and having fun at the beach. And, summer time is filled with excess moisture from sweating, humidity from rain, falling or getting pushed into the swimming pool! Keep the fun going by keeping your hearing aids/cochlear implant processors DRY.
Remember: our hearing devices do not like to be wet or clogged with sand!
The following tips will keep your hearing aids/CI processors dry and in good working order during the summer.
* Soft, dry cloth or tissue to wipe the outside of hearing aids/cochlear implant processors daily, and especially after exercising.
* Dehumidifier box to keep the delicate inside parts of the hearing aids/cochlear implants dry. Simply put your hearing aids/CI processor (without the batteries) in the box overnight. And, the dehumidifier box is small enough to put in your suitcase when traveling!
Note: Most audiologists are able to provide them, and you can also find them in local pharmacies or at harriscomm.com.
* Umbrella and a waterproof hat.
* Sweat band when mowing the lawn, playing outdoor sports.
* Protective wrapper (e.g. Super Seals) or sleeves that help keep the moisture out of your hearing devices when you are outdoors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Antimicrobial products can be applied to your hearing aids several times a week to help kill microbial germs. Ask your audiologist about these products.
* Tool to remove wax from the hearing aid/cochlear implant microphone screens (use only specific tools or brushes which come with hearing devices).
* Air – In addition to using the dehumidifier, “puffers”http://www.hearingukdirect.com/hearing-aid-cleaning-accessories/hearing-aid-tube-cleaner-puffer/ blow small amounts of air through the hearing aids or/and through the tubing and moldings to keep them free from obstruction. Your audiologist will have more information.
* Holding products (particularly for active children) such as Huggie Aids, Critter Clips, or SafenSound.
– Keep the battery compartment open when you are not using the hearing aids or when they are in the dehumidifier overnight.
– Remove batteries from the cochlear implant processor before placing the processor in the dehumidifier.
– Ask your audiologist to replace the tubing (in behind-the-ear hearing aids) more frequently in the hot summer months to avoid obstructions. If you are not sure how to clean your hearing aids/cochlear implant processor, talk to your audiologist.
– Be sure your hair & ears are dry before putting in your hearing aids or CI processor.
– Check online for waterproof and water-resistant hearing aids/cochlear implant processor.
Note: Water-resistant hearing aids/cochlear implants are able to handle splashes from the pool or a rain shower. They are not designed for total immersion in water. Waterproof hearing aids/cochlear implants are designed for total immersion in water.
– Take a zip-lock bag when you go to the amusement park to use as a container for your hearing device(s) while you are on the water rides and also as a place to keep them with you when you’re on the roller coaster. It would spoil your day if your devices flew off! And just imagine trying to find them.
– If your hearing aids or CI processor does get wet, try a Dri-Aid or a Dry and Store humidifier. They are intended to remove moisture from hearing devices, not for salvaging them. However, some people have been lucky enough to salvage their hearing device by using these kits – even after dropping them in the toilet! They were lucky!
– Do not dry hearing devices in the microwave or by using a hair dryer!
– Never leave your aids in the glove box of the car.
– Always take plenty of spare batteries.
– Try not to drop your hearing devices. (I have dropped my CI processors a few times and so far, I’ve been lucky they remained intact.)
Summer heat and humidity can be hard on your hearing devices. See your audiologist to ensure you are protecting them as best as possible.
Life is much better when you can hear!
Healthy Hearing TroubleshootingYourHearingAids – blog Jamie Berke
May is Better Hearing Month
Do you know that approximately 50 million Americans have some level of hearing loss?
From 2000 to 2015, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled.
1 in 5 adults has some degree of hearing loss (Hearing Health Foundation, 2015).
In Sarasota and Manatee counties, there are145,000 people with hearing loss. Only 14% seek treatment and less than 0.1% get support.
Most people wait 5 – 7 years before getting help for hearing loss. Family and friends often notice hearing loss before the person with hearing loss does.
Signs of Hearing Loss:
* Television is too loud
* Requests many repeats
* Not hearing the door bell and telephone
* Fading away from conversation
* ‘Jumps’ when you appear
* Can’t hear from another room
* Has trouble on the phone
Reasons for Not Getting Help with Hearing Loss:
* Denial – Person with hearing loss will accuse people of mumbling and say they hear
just fine … “If only you would speak up!”
* Vanity – Doesn’t want to wear a hearing aid in case it makes him/her look old or feeble.
* Cost – Concerned about the cost of hearing aids.
* Stigma – Stigma attached to hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Brain Size:
Dr. Frank Lin and researchers from Johns Hopkins University, along with the Agency for the Aged, found that as we age, our brains shrink, and that the brains of people with hearing loss shrink more than those of people with normal hearing.
Untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia, falls, hospitalization, diminished physical and mental health overall. The sooner hearing loss is treated, the less risk of dementia and brain damage.
Ways to Improve Your Hearing:
Seek Treatment – Go to your regular doctor and get a hearing test. If there is a problem,
the doctor will refer you to a hearing professional (audiologist or hearing aid dispenser). You will find out what kind of hearing loss you have and how you may be helped.
Conductive hearing loss can usually be fixed by removal of built-up wax, a foreign body (such as a bug, candy paper in the ear). Audiologists can always tell if you have been using q tips, as the wax is pushed down the ear canal, becomes compressed and painful. The audiologists like to say, “don’t put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow”.
Sensorineural hearing loss (nerve deafness) is usually permanent and cannot be cured, but can often be helped with hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening devices.
Hearing Aids – We all would rather wear the cute little in-the-ear hearing aids. Generally, the small in-the-ear hearing aids are for a mild hearing loss and, most often, the bigger the hearing loss – the bigger the hearing aid. However, having said that, hearing aids have come a long way over the years and are much smaller, as well as more efficient, than they were years ago.
Cochlear Implants – If you get to the point where you lose your hearing and
hearing aids do not help any more, it may be time to check into a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf. Cochlear implants are covered by insurance.
Programming – Hearing aids and cochlear implants are not like glasses. You don’t put them on and experience ‘20/20’ hearing. Hearing aids and cochlear implants need patience, practice and programming. You need the patience to go back (often many times) to the provider for programming until you get the sound comfort and clarity that you can live with.
Communication Strategies for the Person with Hearing Loss:
* Try not to bluff; admit when you do not know what was said
* Hearing loss is invisible – tell people how they may best communicate with you
* Sit with your back to the light, so you can see the speaker’s face
* Choose a quiet table in a restaurant – away from the kitchen
* Go to a restaurant at non-busy times
* Wear a button that says, “Please face me. I read lips”
Communication Strategies for the Hearing Person When Communicating with a Person with Hearing Loss:
* Get his/her attention
* Face him/her
* Remove objects from your mouth
* Try not to put hands over mouth
* Speak slowly and clearly; shouting does not help
* Speak directly to the person – not to an intermediary
* Train the brain to hear sounds it has not heard in a long time
* Training exercises can be found online such as LACE (Language and Communication * Enhancement) and Read My Quips
* Some hearing aids/cochlear implants have the manufacturer’s online training programs
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs):
Sometimes, a hearing aid/cochlear implant may not be enough and using ALDs helps to close the gap.
* Harris Communications is a good place to start:
> Bed Shaker Alarm Clock
> Strobe light fire alarms
> Flashing light door bell ringers
> Hearing Aid/Cochlear Implant dryer
* Captioned Glasses at all Regal movie theaters (FREE with your movie ticket!)
* Hearing Loop Systems
* Captioned and Amplified Phones (FREE for Florida residents by contacting Florida
Telecommunications Relay, Inc. (www.ftri.org) or call 800-222-3448 or 941-351-9545)
Look Into a Local Hearing Loss Support Group:
Hearing Loss Association of America is one such group. Its mission is to open the world of communication to persons with hearing loss by providing support, information, education and advocacy. You will meet others with hearing loss, be able to share stories and help each other by sharing information.
Helen Keller (blind and deaf author and political activist) said, “Blindness takes you away from things. Deafness takes you away from people”.
In this age of technology, people with hearing problems can choose to stay connected to people; to remain in this world of communication, instead of out of it.
Hearing Health Foundation
Hang on to your Hearing!
Hearing enhances your life in so many ways.
How about listening to music, going to the movies and plays?
How about relationships with family?
How about your job?
How about safety?
Difficulty in hearing affects all aspects of life.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 48 million Americans have some level of hearing loss, with only 20% doing anything about it. In Sarasota/Manatee counties alone, there are approximately 145,000 people with hearing loss.
Hearing Loss is Not Always Age-related
Some of our soldiers are coming home from the wars with many life-changing injuries. Many of them say that the most challenging injury is hearing loss (most often caused by excess noise).
About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 babies in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. More than 90% of deaf or hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing
Personally, I lost most of my hearing at five years old. I contracted mumps and had a tonsillectomy a few months later. My ears became infected and medication was used. Very likely, my inner ear was damaged, causing hearing loss.
How You Hear
There are three parts to the ear – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
• Outer ear consists of the pinna, ear canal and eardrum.
• Middle ear consists of the ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) and ear drum.
• Inner ear consists of the cochlea, the auditory (hearing) nerve and the brain.
The inner ear is also called the cochlea. ‘Cochlea’ means snail in Latin and gets its name from its distinctive coiled up shape.
Sound waves enter the ear canal and make the ear drum vibrate. This action moves the small chain of bones (the ossicles – malleus, inca, stapes) in the middle ear. The last bone in this chain knocks on the membrane window of the cochlea and makes the fluid in the cochlea move. The fluid movement then triggers a response in the hearing nerve. Thousands of tiny hairs (cilia) are attached to the nerve cells in the cochlea. These hairs help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain. This is how you distinguish different sounds.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Damage to the Inner Ear – Disease, aging (presbycusis), exposure to loud noise, head trauma, otosclerosis (a hereditary disorder in which a bony growth forms around a small bone in the middle ear), fluid in the middle ear, allergies and malformation of outer ear, ear canal or middle ear structures may damage the hair cells in the cochlea. The hearing mechanism is sensitive, delicate and easily damaged. When these hair cells are damaged, the electrical signals are not transmitted properly – resulting in hearing loss. It becomes more difficult for you to hear high-pitched sounds (bird whistles, children’s voices) and also it may become more challenging to hear in noisy atmospheres. This is called sensorineural hearing loss and is permanent. It cannot be cured but may be helped by the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants and/or assistive listening devices.
• Build-up of wax, or a foreign object in the ear can cause hearing loss. This hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss and hearing can very often be restored by having an ear, nose and throat doctor remove the blockage.
• It is not a good idea to try to remove blockages yourself with a Q-tip. Q-tips can push the wax further down and/or cause the eardrum to rupture (tympanic membrane perforation). Infection, loud blasts of noise and sudden changes in pressure can also cause your eardrum to rupture.
• Infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors in the outer or middle ear can also contribute to hearing loss.
• Untreated diabetes can cause hearing loss due to the inner ear depending on healthy blood flow. A study performed in 2008 by National Institutes of Health reported people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss as non-diabetics.
• Some drugs come with severe side effects. According to Healthy Hearing, ototoxic drugs can damage the hearing mechanism (oto is the prefix for hearing sound and toxic means harmful). Some of the heavy-duty antibiotics are ototoxic. Be sure to check with your doctor if multiple drug combinations taken together cause hearing loss. You may be surprised to know that excessive amounts of aspirin can cause hearing loss.
• Smoking restricts blood flow. The cochlea requires a good oxygenated blood flow and over time damage occurs. Your cigarettes may be contributing to hearing loss.
• Sickle cell anemia patients experience fatigue, joint pain, and hearing loss because the red blood cells are misshapen – curved like a sickle. This restricts the blood flow to the ears as well as other parts of the body. Again, the cochlea needs a good oxygenated blood flow.
Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss
In some cases (such as infection, abnormal bone growth, tumors, aging, or sickle cell anemia), it is challenging to prevent hearing loss. You follow the doctor’s advice and take care of your health issues as best you can.
However, in many other cases, it is possible to protect your hearing.
Reduce Excess Noise
Work places can be excessively noisy. Most manufacturers producing excessive noise are monitored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and will require you to wear ear protection. Wear it. Wear those earplugs or noise cancellation devices. They will help you to hold on to your hearing a bit longer.
MP3 players and iPods can pour excessive amounts of noise into the ear. Hearing loss can be caused by long-term exposure to loud noise. When you put on your music, think about turning it down a bit and you can listen longer.
Driving open-top cars with the windows down and listening to music is great now, but it can lead to hearing loss down the road. The decibel level can exceed 90 and can damage the ears. (60 decibels is about the range for conversation, 110 decibels for a rock concert, and up to 180 for a rocket launch).
Take Care of Your General Health
If you smoke, think about how cigarettes may affect your hearing in the long run, as well as your lungs.
If you need to take medications, talk to your doctor about possible combinations that may put your hearing at risk.
Follow your doctor’s advice for optimal health.
By making a few changes now, you may help yourself hear longer, and continue to enjoy a good quality of life well in to old age.
Here’s to Happy, Healthy Hearing!