Test Your Own or Family Members’ Hearing Yourself: Why Not?!

If a child has a hearing problem, it’s usually the case that a parent or teacher will notice it, and the kid gets a first visit with an audiologist for testing.

With adults who experience hearing loss over a long, slow period of time, it’s too common for a trip to the audiologist to get delayed, often on the order of several years. (The average procrastination period from first noticing a possible hearing issue to getting hearing aids is seven years, as I’ve noted in previous posts here. An estimated 50% of people who could benefit from hearing amplification do nothing about it, ever.)

All involved parties — the hearing-impaired person, that person’s family and friends, audiologists, and hearing-aid manufacturers — benefit from reducing that seven-year wait to get the technology in the ear in such cases. Fortunately, new technology for personal computers, smartphones, and digital tablets appear poised to address this problem.

One of my fellow bloggers here on Open Ears recently pointed me to Mimi, a nice app for Apple iPhones and iPads. (Sorry, it’s only for the Apple crowd for now; but, there are alternative self-hearing-test solutions for everyone else. More on that later.) It’s a brilliant free app, developed by audiology entrepreneurs Philipp Skribanowitz and Pascal Werner, which allows you to quickly test your hearing and get results that aren’t much different than if you got tested by an audiologist. It can then simulate what your corrected hearing would be like, which can be an eye-opener, or perhaps “ear-opener” is the better term. To do a Mimi test, you can use either a good-quality pair of over-the-ear headphones or the earbuds that came with your iPhone or iPad, and find as quiet a place as possible to run the test.

(This TechCrunch article gives a good overview of the app and Mimi’s founders’ hopes for their technology.)

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: you wouldn’t want to depend on the results of an at-home hearing test on your phone to order hearing aids using your do-it-yourself audiogram. One big reason: you won’t be testing in a soundproof room. But, a quick self-test might just make some people realize that they have some hearing loss, and motivate them to get a professional hearing test sooner.

After testing myself, sans hearing aids, using Mimi and a pair of over-the-ear headphones and confirming the obvious — that I have hearing loss bad enough to require a solution — I convinced my wife to test her ears using the Mimi app. Her self-perception is that she does not have hearing loss yet, at age 54. In recent months, I’ve wondered if she’s got a bit of hearing impairment going on, since it’s happened more often that she can’t understand something I’ve said. (It’s also possible that I sometimes speak a bit quieter in private conversations since getting my hearing aids one year ago, the result of perceiving my own voice as being louder when I speak than pre-hearing aids.)

She agreed to let me post the results of her Mimi test here:

sjn-mimi-results

So, not great, but not terrible. Her Mimi-calculated “hearing age” is three years older than her physical age. And as the chart on the left shows, she has a bit of trouble hearing at higher frequencies; and her left ear appears to be functioning not quite as well as her right.

What really raised my wife’s eyebrows in amazement was when she had Mimi simulate hearing as if it was corrected based on the profile above. She noticed a significant difference, and told me that she was quite surprised by that.

While she still doesn’t think she’s ready to get hearing aids, this little experiment did make her aware of the typical hearing loss of an adult in her mid 50s compared to when she was younger. Her plan is to get an appointment at our audiologist’s office for earwax removal, which she suspects will improve her hearing.

Sure, this test with my spouse was anecdotal, but I believe that if more people who suspect that their hearing isn’t what it used to be — or who hear from family and friends that they should consider getting their hearing checked — could be exposed to the existence of the Mimi app and other alternatives, many more people would check their own hearing at home. It’s less threatening or scary than visiting an audiologist, who “might find something seriously wrong with my ears” or be an “unnecessary expense.” Such self-tests most likely will result in more people with age-related hearing loss making that appointment with an audiologist sooner, since the app’s data will show what their minds have been denying.

As mentioned above, Mimi is not the only self-test application out there. Here are a few other options:

  • Self-Test for Hearing Loss Checklist: this is simply a list of symptoms that may indicate hearing impairment. It’s a good place to start prior to taking a self-serve online or mobile-device hearing test.
  • Online Hearing Test at OnlineAudioClinic.com.au: use your computer and headphones for this; it tests ability to decipher spoken words over varying background-noise levels.
  • Online Audiogram Hearing Test: another computer-and-headphones test; this one uses tones to determine your personal audiogram.
  • Test Your Hearing (Android app): less sophisticated than Mimi, but works on smartphones running the Android operating system.
  • Hearing Test (Android app): another smartphone app for Android that creates a self-test audiogram.
  • Hearing Test (iPhone/iPad app): here’s one more for Apple users; this one costs US 99 cents.
  • Search Google for more. There are lots of online hearing tests, and a lesser number of mobile apps. Fortunately, most of them are free.

Punk Rock Proof — Or How Hearing Aids Changed my Taste in Music

I once had hearing aids that were punk rock proof. I was 17. For me, they were some of the best devices I have ever worn, mainly because they were the first that had a great noise canceling feature. Sometimes, in noisy restaurants, I would hear and understand better than my well-hearing parents and their friends. The otherwise unbearably loud chatter in the crowded restaurant was attenuated to a gentle whisper. Do not underestimate this: I, being hard of hearing, heard much better than everybody else at the table. Such joy!

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Photo credit: GothEric

But then again, I was 17. I was rebellious. I liked punk rock at that time. I am talking about bands like The Exploited or Dead Kennedys. My devices, though, turned this kind of music down. Every time, thoroughly and without hesitation. My hearing aids were every parent’s dream.

I clearly remember this one night, when I was going to some party with a friend. We were in my car, I was driving, a warm summer night, windows down and the radio up. Or actually, not that up. So I kept turning it up a little bit more in order to hear the music better. And then again, because somehow, I still could not hear it. And again — until my friend finally punched me in the side, yelling because otherwise I would not have heard him, that I please cut that out.

The following weekend, I was at the local lake with my friends and we had my portable music player with us. As there were other people around I kept the volume to a medium level — or so I thought. That is some experience when it is not the bourgeois older people who tell you to please turn it down but your very own punk friends.

It was around that time that I started listening to more melodic stuff.

I never told my parents that perhaps my hearing aids contributed more to my becoming a bit more square and integrated into mainstream society than they ever did — at least with respect to music.

Flaunt It Or Hide It? A Future Hearing-Aid Scenario

The hearing-impaired community is diverse, and certainly not of one mind. Such is obvious when it comes to the “debate” that surfaced on one of my Open Ears posts from April, about my personal desire to use hearing aids that are as “invisible” as possible.

Do you flaunt it or hide it?
Do you flaunt it or hide it when it comes to your hearing aids? (Photos by UMHealthSystem and Erik Holfelder)

There are plenty of hearing-impaired people who prefer to flaunt their hearing aids, not only as a way to make their devices a fashion statement — in the same way as most people who wear eyeglasses spend a lot of time selecting just the right, fashionable frames — but also to make a different kind of statement. One commenter on my April post nicely explained the “flaunt them” point of view:

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Why Do We Underestimate Hearing Loss?

People wait a long time to get fitted with hearing aids. I’m a good example of this, having hearing loss since birth (we guess) but waiting until my 38th year to do so, after figuring out “something was up” with my hearing when I was 13 or so.
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The First Time I Resented My Hearing Aids

It was last week. I guess a two-year love story with my aids is not too bad, so it had to happen someday.

Playground

I was working in my office when a loud alarm-like sound went off. Now, in certain parts of the world this is habitual, but not in this quiet little part of Switzerland. We don’t have house and car alarms going off twenty times a day (we don’t have house or car alarms most of the time). Ambulances and police cars sometimes go by but they won’t use their sirens unless they need them.

We looked at each other in the office, and I hopped out of the ground-level window to investigate. Was this going to involve calling the police?

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Eyes And Ears: So Different?

Since I started spending so much time thinking about hearing loss and hearing technology, one of the things I’ve obviously been thinking about it social stigma related to hearing loss. Stigma is immediately cited as the reason people wait so long to get fitted, and the reason for which “invisible” is a great quality for a hearing aid. (Not everybody agrees, though.)

Corinne with glasses
Photo credit: Corinne Stoppelli

In an attempt to wrap my head around some of these issues, I’ve been trying to make parallels between eyes and ears, glasses and hearing aids. Why is “not hearing well” considered so differently from “not seeing well”? Saying “there’s more stigma” is not really an answer. Social stigma comes from somewhere, right?

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It’s a Vanity Thing: Why I Care That My Hearing Aids Are ‘Invisible’

It’s been 8 months since I picked up my first pair of hearing aids from the audiologist’s office. Of course, as with many other men in middle age, my hearing had been on the decline for several years prior to the Big Day. I just suffered silently during those earlier years as my hearing declined — frankly, in the name of vanity (with plenty of denial thrown in). My wife and daughters suffered not so silently: “When are you going to get your ears checked? That’s way overdue!”

It really was a significant day in my life. I can best describe adding hearing aids to my daily personal accessories for the first time as similar to the day at 15 years old when I donned my first pair of prescription eyeglasses. Walking into my high school the next day, I expected every student and teacher in the building to gawk at me. … What a surprise when hardly anyone paid any notice. Even my friends barely joked about my change in appearance. (I wear eyeglasses to this day.)

Steve's invisible hearing aid

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Depending on my Hearing Aids

With the early days of hearing aid wonder hearing behind me, I sometimes find myself forgetting them. The other day, it happened again. I left home and realised just in time that I didn’t have my ears with me.

I blame my morning shower. I have to wait until my ears are completely dry to put my hearing aids in. By that time I’m up and about and out of my “waking up and getting started” routine. What is the best solution to this? I definitely haven’t found it yet.

Wear your hearing aids reminder.

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Two Days in Stäfa

A few weeks ago, I spent two days at the Phonak headquarters in Stäfa, near Zurich. If managing a blog and writing for it can be done remotely, meeting people can’t.

Phonak headquarters Stäfa

People are sometimes surprised that I value face-to-face exchanges so much when I am such a “digital” person. Well, I do — you get something out of spending an hour in the same room as somebody that is very hard to reproduce at a distance. I sometimes wonder if it has anything to do with my hearing loss: I need to see people, probably because in my 38 years without hearing aids, I’ve relied a lot on non-verbal communication. I don’t like talking on the phone with people I’ve never met or don’t know well (close friends is another story, I can talk on the phone for hours with them). And as for video conferencing… give me good sound quality and high-quality video which doesn’t freeze or lag, and I might start taking it seriously.

For my third visit, Vincent had set up meetings with various people inside the company, as well as a guided visit of the production centre. I could have stayed in there the whole day, actually — the geek/engineer in me just loves big machines and production chains, obviously.

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Hearing Aids Can Look Cool

When I was fitted nearly two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that hearing aids now came in quite a range of fun colours and textures. Blue, pink, metallic silver, green, you name it. Quite a change from the plastic skin-tones that where the only option available at the time of my first (failed) fitting many years ago as a teenager. Needless to say, I picked pink — my trademark colour — and I’m never shy of showing them off around me.

I discovered more recently that many people go a step further with their hearing aids and implants, decorating them with stickers and gems, nail foils, shoe charms, you name it. The results are fantastic! Vincent regularly shows off his favourites on the Phonak Facebook page. Here are some of those I particularly like.

Pink purple hearing aid with charm Flower Implants Flower on hearing aid Cascading Peace Hearing Aid Charm

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