All the Hearing Options

There I was sitting with my audiologist, complaining about how I can’t hear in noise. I said I could hear the din but felt like I’m drowning in sound and unable to distinguish one word from another.

I should not have been surprised by the change in my hearing. I sensorineural hearing loss. Years ago, I was told to expect that my hearing would decline. Instead, I went on in a pleading tone, asking my audiologist to fix me as if he was a hearing miracle worker. (He is, but even super audiologists are bound by a disease that can’t be cured and technological limitations.)

“Let me pull up your chart,” he said. My audiologist is young and a tech guy. His office is equipped with several wall-mounted computer screens, which he uses to view records and to fit and adjust hearing aids. With a few quick keystrokes, up came my audiogram from last fall. And there was the answer in full view. My word recognition scores had fallen from 35% to 25%. I remembered him mentioning a decline, but I must have been in denial. I had never asked the test results.

For a minute or two, we sat, staring at the black-diamond shaped slope of my audiogram’s curve. It was like the ski run I never dared descend. I sank in my chair, feeling powerless. My hearing had gone from bad to worse. What was I going to do? Then a fire began to smolder. I wasn’t ready to give up. I had to try. “ What do you think would help me most?” I asked. I knew what he was going to say by the way he looked at me. Four years ago, he told me I was a candidate for a cochlear implant. Now he was saying it again. “Medicare has become more stringent in how they qualify people,” he said. “But you’re there. I think you would do well with an implant.”

The solution I’ve never wanted. I’ve talked to many people and learned how they have benefited from their implants. Some experienced great improvements with hearing in noise while others noticed only small to moderate changes. Attending a party recently, my husband, and I conversed with a doctor who had bilateral implants. He told us that he chose to have an implant because his hearing aids were no longer helping him. He had been communicating with people by passing notes. His CIs brought hearing relief. He now hears environmental noises, birds, cars, sirens that had been long dead to him. Amidst the noise of fifty other people talking in a big auditorium type of room, he conversed with us with ease. And while he admitted that the quality of sound with his implants wasn’t natural, he felt his ability to hear had improved. Then he looked at me and without flinching said that if my hearing aids were still helping me I should forego implants for as long as I could.

Remembering that conversation, I asked my audiologist if there were any advances in hearing aids. He mentioned that the manufacturer of my current aids had just come out with a new platform, which we decided to try. We also concluded that I should use a mini microphone when in noise. For those unfamiliar, a microphone accessory is available with most types of hearing aids and CIs. These accessories connect to the t-coil in your aid or implant and can either be clipped to clothing or placed on a table. Mini mics have various ranges, the one I will be testing has a range of 65 feet. These wonderful devices are like having a personal hearing assistant. They subtract out or greatly reduce background noise while picking up the voices of those nearby and delivering sound directly to your ears. Many with hearing loss feel a cochlear implant is their best hearing solution. However, there are those of us who want to stick with aids and technology until we reach a point where hearing aids and peripheral devices no longer help us. I will be writing more about my experience with my new aids and peripherals.

As I meander through the hearing world, I’m grateful for technological advancements in aids and implants. I hope that the future will bring more hearing choices and perhaps a cure for hearing loss.