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Coping With My Hearing Loss

For people with hearing loss, coping often involvesmaking the most ofavailable tools. Although amplification and related tools are widely available, how they are used, what one desires of life, and what one can afford, are highly personal issues.

I am glad the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is around. Its ''umbrella'' facilitates participation in many activities for me, and others with hearing loss.Advances in technology help immeasurably in removing communication barriers that plague people with hearing loss. As a long-time wearer of hearing aids, I dont feel handicapped.

Here are some glimpses on the environment that the ADA and modern technology have created for me.

Closed-Captioned TV

Television viewing without captions is difficult (if not impossible) for me, and for millions of other Americans.Sometimes Iprefer to watch a poor offering that is captioned, rather than a superb offering that lacks captions.

Live Performances

During live stage and musical performances, infrared assistive listening systems make the shows ''understandable'' to me. My personal infrared receiver has a jack for a neckloop, and thisenables me to keep my hearing aids in my ears during the performance. The "MT" setting on my hearing aids ''pipes in'' the voices from the stage without shutting out the rest of the theater. One idea that really helps is to review the script and the CDs version of the show in advance, then I know what to expect, and it doesenhance thelive presentation experience.

Hotel and Travel

When making hotel reservations, I advise the front desk of my need for an amplified telephone and a TV with caption ability, and somehotels have smoke detectors with flashing lights. In one recent experience, the hotel offered a fully equipped "handicapped-accessible" room. Itseemed designed for me. Although I usually pack a small vibrating alarm clock to avoid dependence on telephoned alerts that I might sleep through, I found an excellent vibrating alarm clock in the hotels handicapped-accessible room.

Real Time Captioning

Real-time captioning isa computer-generated process, and it takes much of the bewilderment out of large conferences and meeting experiences. Major gatherings are starting to introduce live captioning, but unfortunately, not many do.For those planning large events, I urge you to investigate real time captioning, to assure that the speaker is perceived by the audience.

E-Mail

E-mail (and related electronic communications) has become a major ''assistive'' system for me. Of course email communication is inexpensive, very efficient, and theend user can make the print larger, bolder and can read the messages whenever they care to.For many of us, e-mail has replaced the telephone for many communications. The less frequently-used telephone serves as a backstop and for emergencies.

Alarms & Signals

At home, there are alternate signaling devices that flash the lights whenever there is a knock at the door, the doorbell rings, or when the telephone rings. Another signal device transfers high-pitched alarms and sirens (which I cannot hear) to lower pitched sounds (which I can hear). Speak with your hearing healthcare professional to learn more about these. Yes, they are a little expensive, but you only buy them once, and they do work, and theymake yourlife much easier!

Hearing Dogs

There are wonderful hearing assistance dogs who alert people to sounds. They aremore fun than flashing lights, and more assuring. Of course they require food, water and walks, but that seems like a reasonable price to pay, for those who have the resources.

Hearing Aids

Although hearing aids help make the most of ones remaining hearing, they dont restore hearing to its earlier state. I am sticking with hearing aids. Importantly, for hearing aids to ''work,'' you must WANT to wear them. You cannot just place them on your ears, and you cannot expect them to work without your active participation. You must learn to listen!

A technical revolution has occurred with hearing aids. There is no comparison between my digital hearing aids and the primitive ones I acquired 17 years ago! State-of-the-art, digital hearing aids can be expensive. The process of acquiring hearing aids absolutely requires professional assistance and support, as I have learned.

For a proper and happy adjustment, a prospective wearer should have a medical examand a comprehensive audiometric hearing test. Follow-up adjustments, both to the instruments and to ones psyche are needed. With the encouragement of the audiologist, I return periodically for adjustments. Occasionally, counseling may be indicated.

Its not like getting a pair of eyeglasses. Hearing aids make better use of the hearing that remains. However, there are personal and psychological factors that would be foolhardy to ignore. People with hearing loss may experience depression, employment problems, even family difficulties. Family members, significant others and loved ones canhelp maximize communication. Of course, this may turn into a burden if the need is not understood and competently and compassionatelyaddressed by all concerned.

My 1983 aids just amplified sounds including some I did not want to hear road noise, restaurant noise. Those noiseswere major problems andthey have promptedsome wearers to put their hearing aids in a dresser drawer. Hearing aids now are much more sophisticated. Some aids manipulate sound, clip peaks to reduce painful sound spikes, some amplify only sounds from the front, or the sides or the rear, and some reduce feedback and have noise reductionprograms too.Digital hearing aids transmit sound to the hearing aid in computer language and many of the new digitals can do all of the above!I get a clearer, better sound and I can make sense of what people are saying.

Theres Nothing Wrong with Your Hearing

Maurine, my late wife of 53 years, took a while to accept the notion that I really had hearing loss. Shethought I wasnt listening. "You only hear when you want to." There was merit to her complaint, as I hada tendency to be preoccupied or distracted. I had not always''paid attention''and that contributed to her skepticism. Once she acknowledged that I had a genuine hearing problem, she became wonderfully supportive and helpful. She found out that face-to-face communication worked, but conversation across rooms did not.

Physicians, Audiologists and Hearing Loss

I got my first hearing aid 20 years ago after I noted that I could not understand what my grandchildren tried to tell me. Although I ''sensed'' hearing loss for perhaps 10 years before, my primary care doctor discounted the problem. He used a primitive device during annual checkups a loudly ticking pocket stopwatch. He moved it toward my ear until I signaled that I heard it. "Theres nothing wrong with your hearing," he would scold. However, the stopwatch, operating at lower frequencies, did not reveal the high frequency hearing loss I had. The ''watch tick'' test is unreliable and has little meaning.

Dr. Beck, an audiologist in San Antonio, Texas, noted that using a watch (or a ''whisper test'') to determine hearing loss is like riding a bike while watching TV. The two are intentionally unrelated by design, and pragmatically incompatible!

My regular doctor, a general practitioner, unfortunately did not know beans about hearing loss. In his defense, I have to say that what professionals have learned about hearing, hearing loss and hearing aids has changed dramatically in the last 30 or 40 years, which wasafter he went to medical school!

Eventually, I saw a licensed audiologist, The audiologist determined the specific sounds I heard and those I didnt hear, and related those findings to my perception of speech sounds.Over the years, I have increasingly developed a high frequency hearing loss, the slope has become steeper as I moved from "moderate" to "severe''hearing loss. Even though I have a significant hearing loss, many low-frequency sounds remain intelligible (such as some watch and clocks ticking)but I do not hear any high frequency sounds. High frequency sounds arethe ones in which 80 percent of the consonants reside.

Basically, I can tell that someone is speaking, but without my hearing aids, it is verydifficult to understand exactly what they are saying! Getting the sense of what is verbally said is like trying to make sense out of a written paragraph of prose, from which consonants have been removed.

Recommendations

When friends ask me about hearing aids, after asserting that getting hearing aids is not like getting eyeglasses, I urge them to get the best hearing aids they can afford. Im not a fan of ads boasting about how "invisible" their aids are. People will help when they know a hearing impairment exists. I really like the quote ''Your hearing loss is MORE visible than your hearing aids.'' Wear them and flaunt them -- thats my mantra. Its a way to tell hearing persons that you have communication needs.

I wear a button that reads: "Please face me, I lip read." It is astonishing how much it helps.

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Bio: Mr. Gilbert is a member of SHHH and former president of its Tacoma, Washington chapter. He was an editor of The Washington Post for many years and briefly served as the on-the-air editor of a nightly news program on Public Television. He has worn hearing aids for 17 years. He recently acquired a cochlear implant. Look for a future article on his progress.

NOTE: This article is a revision of a previously published article. The original article was published on the SHHH website. I am grateful to Mr. Gilbert and to SHHH for allowing us to publish this revised version. ---Douglas L. Beck, Editor-In-Chief, www.healthyhearing.com.

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