Dealing with Hearing Loss: #ShareHear

A few weeks ago I tweeted and posted to Facebook a news story from CNN which I found very intriguing: Can Apple help make hearing aids cool? Based on the article, I’d have to say that the “cool” factor ought to be outweighed by the “I could hear better” factor.

Can Apple help make hearing aids cool?

Image from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/04/tech/innovation/apple-resound-hearing-aids/

So why this post? It’s hardly in line with my normal SharePointilistic musings. Well, when I tweeted the story, several people got in touch to ask about my hearing aids and hearing loss. One well-respected person in the community pointed out that

…I think sharing anything is our purpose, SharePoint or not. I’d read what you post for sure. What caught my attention was the techy side of iPhone controlling the aids. It went from thinking technology was in the way to it being helpful and cool. Great message and opportunity.

This person has been wondering if it’s time to get his hearing checked, and now maybe he will, having realized that it’s not such a horrible thing. (Neither are colonoscopies, by the way, but that’s a whole other conversation.) If one or two people read this and understand people in their lives with hearing loss a little better or decide to get their own hearing checked, then it was worth writing it. And besides, I’m pretty sure I’m coining the latest #Share- hashtag: #ShareHear.

I’ve been using hearing aids for a little over five years now. Both my maternal Grandfather and my Mother had/have congenital hearing loss over the course of their lives, so I had a decent idea that it was going to happen to me, too. So far, my sister and brother seem to be doing OK, but they are younger.

In the kind of hearing loss I have, it’s a long, slow slide. I noticed probably in my mid-40s that I was having trouble hearing conversations in loud rooms – like bars – but I figured it was more about whether or not I cared enough about the conversation or something. Besides, I was getting older, so who had the energy to hear everything, right? Then a while later I realized that I was watching people’s mouths as they talked rather than their eyes. It took me a while to realize what that meant, but when I did, I figured something might be off.

In my line of work – consulting – I simply have to be able to have clear conversations with people. There aren’t that many professions where there are zero conversations, but I need to be able to hear what people say, internalize and synthesize it, and restate it or react quickly to it all the time. If I can’t hear what people are telling me in a conference room or on a conference call, I’m in trouble.

Even though I knew something was amiss, it wasn’t until I met someone who already had the latest generation of hearing aids that I decided to get my hearing checked out. In my case, they very literally weren’t my Grandfather’s hearing aids. (We actually called him “Grandfather”, just like Heidi in the eponymous movie.) Modern hearing aids are small, nearly unnoticeable, and highly sophisticated.

Here’s a photo of a hearing aid similar to the ones I have:

2014-04-07_14-38-25If you check out the Web page, you’ll see that they can even match the casings to your hair or skin color. As a member of the silver fox, gray-haired society, I think my casings are “Winter Silver”.

Everyone’s hearing loss is different, but as you can see, these things are small. If you’ve talked to me in the past and didn’t notice them, that’s why.

So are hearing aids perfect? No, far from it. As my most excellent audiologist told me early on, we can’t fix hearing, we can just make it better. Our hearing is never going to be as good as it was when we were kids; it’s just a fact of life.

The old style hearing aids were really just amplifiers. Both my Mom and my Grandfather had that kind. The sounds around them were just louder as they were pumped into their ears by ineffective speakers attached to ineffective microphones. Hearing aid technology is a place where improved circuitry and miniaturization makes a *huge* difference. Today’s hearing aids – at least the ones that you pay decent money for – had digital signal processing built into them and they are tuned for exactly your type of hearing loss.

If you do decide to get hearing aids, they are expensive. At least in my case, insurance covered none of it. One would hope that may change at some point, but not to date. Those ads you see in the Sunday paper for free or cheap hearing aids are come-ons, either for crappy hearing aids or ones with hidden costs.

And don’t think that hearing loss is something that only happens to old people like me. It can be a problem for anyone, so if you even have an inkling of a thought that you may have a problem, you owe it to yourself to get your hearing checked. It’s actually sort of fun. You go into a soundproof room – they are usually suspended to reduce vibration – and respond when you hear a bunch of blips and beeps and repeat some words back. It’s all totally painless.

If you’d like to know more about hearing aids or anything I’ve talked about here, feel free to ping me. When I asked my audiologist for good sites to point to, she sent back this:

I was searching thru a few websites for some hearing/ hearing aid information that might interest you.  Instead of sending you lots of different places, I’m just going to point you to the direction of my favorite hearing website – betterhearing.org.  There are some moderately hokey looking pics thru the site, but it’s one of the best places to find lots links for nature of loss, epidemiology, tech updates, current studies, market studies, etc.  I think you may find the kind of things you are looking for there.

but at least for me, it was a conversation with someone I knew about his hearing loss that got me on the right track.

My audiologist is hoping to get her hands on some of the cool Apple connected hearing aids for me to try out sometime soon. If they help me hear better, I’ll seriously consider them.

<UPDATE>

Cigale

Image from http://www.cigale.info/

Kevin Lowe mentioned tinnitus below, which made me realize I didn’t say anything about it.

Ah, tinnitus. The South of France is one of the most beautiful places in the world, at least in my book. The scent of lavender wafting on the breeze of a summer day with the bees droning in the fields is one of my most favorite things. There’s a bug there they call a cigale which sort of like what we call a locust.

Cigales are neat little bugs, and when they are present in the millions, as they are in the South of France, they let off a non-stop chirping sound which melds together into a constant hazy buzz. It’s really lovely.

Here’s a little video on a French farm with the cigales doing their thing.

All very lovely. Now imagine that you hear that sound 24×7, no matter where you are. That’s pretty much what tinnitus is, at least for me. No one fully understands it, but based on what I’ve read it’s our brains trying to fill in the information it’s no longer getting from our ears. Or something like that.

Tinnitus can be one of the worst parts of hearing loss because even though we can’t hear well, we’ve also lost our silence. That tinnitus sound fills it in. It’s subtle for some people, or fades in and out. For me, it’s virtually non-stop. I’m sort of used to it, but it doesn’t help me hear you when I’m talking with you. Unfortunately, hearing aids generally can’t do much about tinnitus. There has been some promising research about using cancelling sounds to controvert tinnitus, but nothing generally useful yet. There. That’s tinnitus.

</UPDATE>

6 Comments

  1. Marc, two of my personal heroes (you and Adam Savage) have now recently spoken publicly about hearing loss and their experiences. I have moderate hearing loss and maybe getting worse, with severe tinnitus in one ear. Your post is timely and I plan on seeing an audiologist. Wanted to give you a huge thank you, for everything you do.

    Reply
  2. I’ve got the same one. It was adjusted to pick up the sound levels that I had trouble picking up without just amplifying everything. But that was after trying a few types to see which was the best for me.

    If you are enrolled in a flex spending plan, see if hearing aides are covered. Before I purchased mine, we bumped up the contributions for the year to cover it. Then brought it back down the next year.

    Reply
  3. So great Marc. Thanks for sharing that. I’m booking my appointment today. 30 years of drumming and ignoring the signs have turned me into somewhat of introvert. I am by nature, but was starting to consider living in a cave, so this should help get me out. :)

    Reply

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