The Sounds of Hearing Loss


A long time ago the owner of the Alaska Hearing Help Center, a dynamic and well-informed woman named Sharon Clark (if you live in Anchorage, I highly recommend her!) told me how to describe to a fully hearing person what my hearing is like.  She said, “Have the other person go in the bathroom.  Turn on the shower  Now shut the door.  Have them turn their back to the door.  You turn your back to the door.  Now talk to them in a normal tone of voice.

Nowadays the Internet so kindly provides us with sound samples.  I think I may have provided something before, from Phonak, but on a deafness related list I saw that NPR put something out April 6, 2013.  If you want to know what I hear, click on the NPR link and try combining the loss of high frequencies with a bit of the loss of recruitment.  So far, my clarity is fairly good.

In fact, if you want to test run hearing loss a bit more, I did find the Phonak samples at this link.

Attribution: Stimulate Studios – Photobucket.com

Now imagine being in an institution.  A jail.  A prison. I don’t know how many of my readers have ever been in institutions – from old mental hospitals to jails – but the acoustics are horrible.  Even in new institutions they are built for security, not as great hearing environments. There’s the sound of doors – heavy doors – and sometimes motors moving them.  There’s clanging. There’s ventilation systems going all the time. And voices. So many voices. Sounds of all sorts permeate those buildings. In the end they meld into a wall of sound.

I have monaural hearing – one side only.  I can’t tell where a sound comes from – everything comes from my right according to my brain.  Even when fitted with bicros* aids my brain still insisted sound only comes from the right hand side.  Too little, too late.  *A bicros is when one hearing aid is a microphone with a transmitter that transmits sounds to the “good” ear through wires or (now) FM and the other is a regular hearing aid that is also fitted with a receiver  to pick up the sounds from the totally deaf side.

I’ve interviewed people in a wide variety of settings that are institutional in nature.  I’ve heard the big doors clang and bang and I find that abrupt sound painful. It isn’t just the sights in jail that are oppressive.  The sounds are overwhelming.  Loud. Pervasive.  I think I’d actually be better off without hearing aids in many circumstances – the sound would be so incredible that I’d be functionally totally deaf. Of course, that would also be dangerous.  And, frankly, the technology available to inmates of institutions is a far cry from what I use.

And to be deaf in an institution – unless it is a school for the deaf – is a scary thing.  In a noisy environment, what hearing you’ve got is swamped.  In a noisy environment those little vibrations in the floor or even the air around you just don’t exist.

It is easy to swamp me anyway.  Put me in an old courthouse with echoing walls and I’m easily over my head without access to CART or an Interpreter.  My FM system is great, but it isn’t super-ear.  I’ve usually got a splitting headache by the time I exit an echoing building. It boggles my mind to consider living in one for years.

I’d be fascinated to hear what folks who read this blog and take the time to listen to sound samples will discover about hearing loss.  Did you have any idea how a high frequency loss could distort sound?  Or that recruitment problems causes sound to just drop out entirely, so that chunks of words are just missing?

Or listen to the announcement in the train station (the Phonak page) with normal hearing – and then try the moderate hearing loss one.  Imagine… just imagine.  My “good ear” is moderate to severe loss, unaugmented.  Someone like Felix Garcia?  Forget it!  Moderate loss for him would be a dream of great hearing.  Imagine that muffled announcement being like a guard talking to an inmate – from the side or behind a back.  It is nothing recognizable.  Think what life is like without access to high end hearing equipment, state of the art medical treatment for ear infections, and without access to Interpreters.

The sounds of hearing loss.  At a certain point, there just aren’t any sounds left – at least, not helpful ones in the range of the human voice.  They go away until even fire engine sirens are lost to us without intervention.

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6 comments

    1. Thanks. I keep hammering on the hearing loss part, because unless we understand what it is, we’ll never know why it is important. To this day, my roommate (whom I’ve known for a decade) still does not understand that I can’t tell how loud I’m talking or that I just can’t hear certain things. They do not exist in my world. Of course, she can hear a bug fart at 5 miles! What a combination we are. LOL

  1. I find myself taking my hearing aid out (the aid gives me basic atmospheric level hearing which helps with lipreading) when I’m in a loud environment. All the clattering and banging (that’s how everything, even loud talkers in a bar, comes through) makes concentrating on lipreading (and, boyhowdy, I’ve got to concentrate big time) near impossible.

    1. Same. Background noise totally obliterates any hope I have if pairing speech to mouth shapes. In really loud situations “just shoot me now” or give me a good interpreter like Justin (my fav). I hear ya.

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