Sight, Sound and Beyond

Posts tagged ‘deafness’

Hearing Loss 101

I have decided to write about a topic very near and dear to me that so many people do not know much about: hearing loss.  It is really interesting when you meet other adults that still lack the basic understanding of hearing loss and understanding the available treatments.  I am going to answer some of the most of the frequently asked questions I receive from people whom I know both personally and professionally   Hopefully you will find my own personal account to be quite educational.

1.  I notice that even with your hearing aids on, you still don’t hear everything.  How come?

A hearing aid does not restore normal hearing the way prescription eyeglasses can restore normal vision for most wearers (my glasses don’t do that but that is another topic of discussion).  Hearing aids are called hearing aids for a reason.  They simply act as an aid or a helper to the person who wears them.  My hearing loss is the result of nerve damage inside the cochlea, which is where all the hearing magic takes place.   When a person hears something, sound waves travel inside the ear until they reach the cochlea which is located deep inside the ear, way past the ear drum.  The cochlea has fluid-filled ducts that are lined with hair cells.  These hair cells translate the sound waves into nerve impulses that the brain can understand.  Many of the hair cells in my cochlea are damaged, which causes deafness.  Because there is damage, a hearing aid cannot allow me to hear like a normal person would.  Because I have some residual hearing, the hearing aid allows me to hear the sounds better by using amplification.

2.  Why not get a cochlear implant?

Although hearing aids do not correct my hearing loss, they do manage to help me a lot.  I can communicate with people through speech rather than sign language.  Because my hearing aids are helpful, there is no need for me to have a cochlear implant.  A cochlea implant is more suitable for one who does not benefit from hearing aids at all.  A person who receives a cochlear implant often has very limited residual hearing or no hearing at all.

3.  What do you hear when you are not wearing your hearing aids?

My hearing loss is most severe in the middle frequencies.  That means that I can detect high and low sounds better than sounds that fall in between.  This type of hearing loss is called a cookie-bite loss because of how it appears on an audiogram.  Speech falls into the middle frequencies category.  Therefore, when I am not wearing my hearing aids I have difficulty hearing and understanding speech.  I may hear you faintly babbling things to me, but I won’t have the slightest clue what you are saying unless you are inches from my ear and speaking in a strong voice.  I have no problem hearing the high pitch calls of Sunny and Nikki though:-)

4.  Your speech is so clear.  How did you learn to speak so well?

Just a little background: I was not diagnosed with hearing loss until I was 8 years old.  This is due to the shape of my hearing loss.  When I was 3 1/2 years old, my mother took me to a speech therapist because I still wasn’t talking.  It was assumed that my speech delay was due to my visual impairment.  After all, I didn’t learn how to walk until I was 2 years old.  Since there was no knowledge of my hearing loss, my mother was told that I would learn to talk when I was ready.  My great aunt even added that I would learn how to talk and once I did learn, I would never stop.  P.S. She was right LOL!

Somehow, I managed to pick up the English language even though I would pronounce many words wrong.  Many members of my family speak at a higher decibel level than the average person so that helped me learn to pick up words.  As for the clarity of my speech, I would have to say that I owe that to my 15 years of singing in the school choir.  All through elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and even a year in grad school, I sang in the choir with my fellow classmates.  It was there I learned how to enunciate, which definitely enhanced the clarity of my speech.

5.  What is an FM system?

It is amazing that even those who live with hearing loss have never heard of an FM system.  My audiologist was shocked when I had told her that I had went through all my years of public schooling without the use of an FM system.  I was never offered one.  She had made the conclusion that I was just so smart and had all my teachers fooled.  Now, that’s a nice way to look at things!  Anyway, the classroom is the worst listening environment and in my final semester of graduate school, I experienced that challenge to its extreme when I took a course that met twice a week in the choral hall.  Yes, a choral hall!  It was like sitting in a large bathroom LOL!  I found myself straining to hear my professor and feeling very frustrated.  I would leave the class feeling exhausted due to my intense concentration.  It was then when I learned what an FM system was.  Finally, at the age of 26, I was learning what was available to me besides hearing aids.  It was an eye opening experience!

An FM System is simply a wireless microphone that wireless transmits sounds to a pair of headphones or hearing aids.  My FM system works with my hearing aids and allows me to hear sounds that are either far away or that are surrounded by unwanted background nose.  For more about the the FM system, you can read my post entitled What is an FM System? 

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Blind or Deaf?

Helen Keller (1881-1968)

I have been asked the following question many times: If you were forced to choose, would you rather be completely blind or completely deaf?  This recently came up in a conversation and has been on my mind ever since.  One of my mother’s friends commented that she could never cope with being blind and would prefer to be deaf.  Last night I googled: “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” and was amazed to learn that most people would prefer to be completely deaf rather than being completely blind.

Of course, I would not want to be either.  Since I have both a hearing and visual impairment I know firsthand how the loss of these senses can affect a person.  Of course for me, having both these senses impaired creates a whole new experience.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when a person is blind, they often depend on their hearing.  This helps them gather a sense of what is happening in the world around them.  Likewise, a person who is deaf will often depend on their vision to collect information.  As someone who has both a vision and hearing loss, what do I depend on more: my hearing or my vision?  I don’t depend much on either.  I often depend on touch and memory, especially when it comes to music making.  I guess you could also say I have a sixth sense at times and often go with my intuition.  I pay close attention, too, which is why it has been said that I am a very intense person.  I can really get focused on what I am doing.

If I were completely blind, I would not be able to see the beautiful colors of my two parrots, the beauty of nature and all the other things that people love to look at.  Without hearing, I would not be able to communicate through spoken language.  Although many learn to read lips, this is not the case for everyone.  I would not be able to hear my friends voices on the telephone or the calls of my parrots when they tell me they want to eat.  I would not be able to hear the sounds that are supposed to alert me of danger such as the sound of a fire alarm

While being blind would rob me of seeing many things, being deaf would rob me of staying in close connection with the people I love.  To me, there is something beautiful when it comes to the sound of laughter.  I love to hear laughter and I love when I say something that can send a person laughing out loud.

Of course, there are ways to overcome both blindness and deafness, but knowing what I know now and remembering what I have experienced, I will tell you that I have had more frustration when I could not hear something rather than when I could not see something.  Yes, I was frustrated to learn that I would never be able to drive, and I would feel left out in school when I was the only student in class who could not see what was written on the chalkboard.  However, I would become more frustrated and emotional when I could not hear what was said to me.  Also, when I was in college, I lived in a campus dormitory where there would be frequent fire drills at any hour of the day or night.  Whenever I took a shower, I would have to take my hearing aids out, and I would always worry that I would not be able to hear the alarm go off.  Also when I was a child, our fire alarm went off during the night.  There was not a fire.  The alarm was not working properly or something like that.  Anyway, it went off at 5am and everyone in the house woke up because they had heard it go off except me.  It didn’t wake me up.  What if there had been a real fire?

In my opinion, hearing and vision are both important senses and to choose one over the other is extremely difficult but if I were forced to chose, I would say I would rather be blind than deaf.  The great Helen Keller once said: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, If not more important, than those of blindness.  Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

Of course, the 21st century is an exciting time for anyone to be living because of the advances in medicine and technology.  There are more treatments to help deafness and blindness today than there were ever before.  I feel very fortunate to live in a time when I was able to receive corneal transplants in both my eyes to help improve my vision.  Yes, my vision is not 20/20, but it is better than before and I am happy with that.  I am also happy to be living in a time that has wonderful technology, which help me to be successful on a daily basis.  For vision, this includes my Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), my magnifiers, and telescopes.  For hearing this includes my digital hearing aids, my FM system and my sonic boom alarm clock which wakes me up through vibrations rather than sound.

I couldn’t be born in a better time period and so I end by saying “viva 21st century!”

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