Katherine’s Hearing Story

The beginning of my work as editor for this blog also included a crash course in familiarising myself with the “hearing-impaired” community. As a reasonably recent hearing aid user with mild to moderate loss, I had pretty much dealt with my hearing all by myself until then.

I met Katherine Barnes in a Facebook support group for people suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss. She’s currently finishing her first year of business management in Georgia (USA). Here’s her story:

Continue reading “Katherine’s Hearing Story”

Adapting Abroad: Languages, Hearing Loss, Neural Plasticity

Language differences today can be divisive and challenging – they can separate people and halt communication altogether. How can it be then, that at the same time, language can be a uniting front and bring millions of people together? Perhaps then it is not the language being “good” or “bad”, but the people trying to use the language as a tool of communication.
Continue reading “Adapting Abroad: Languages, Hearing Loss, Neural Plasticity”

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:


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.

What’s In a Name?

I was fascinated by an earlier post from Stephanie about language and the lack of an original name for hearing aids, something the aural equivalent of ‘glasses’ and ‘contact lenses’ (as opposed to ‘seeing aids’). I also enjoyed Steve’s post about ‘hearables’. It made me remember something from my childhood that I thought I’d share with you.

When I was a young child, I didn’t realise people were even saying ‘hearing aid’. Because of the accent, it sounded like they were saying ‘eerie naid’, which had no meaning other than that to me, it was the equivalent of glasses. Someone’s ‘eerie naid’ helped them hear in the same way their glasses helped them to see: such was the way of the world in my three or four year old mind.

Things were further confused by my beloved Nan saying, “Pass me my glasses so I can hear you.” Unbeknown to me, my Nan had bone conducting hearing aids attached to her glasses.

In my mind, her glasses looked something like these Cats eye glasses — but then again, it was a very long time ago!

Cats eye glasses by Paul Taylor
Photo credit: Paul Taylor website

I wonder if giving the ‘devices in our ears’ a new name would help with the image problem aids seem to have.

Hearing aids have long been associated with old age/ageing which is not good for those of us who need them at a much younger age — even in childhood.

How about a new name such as ‘Personal Amplifying Devices’? That’s what a hearing aid is really: a personal amplifying device. This would be the name equivalent of ‘contact lenses’.

When I don’t have my lenses in, I say, “I haven’t got my eyes in.” Is it that far a leap for those of us who say, “Wait, I just need to put my ‘ears’ in,” to say, “I just need to put my P.A.D.s in or my amplifiers in”?

I think not and you have to admit, it sounds a whole heap better than putting your ‘eerie naids’ in.

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!

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.

What Can Hearing Impaired People Do to End Stigmas Against Mental Illness?

  • Have you strained so hard to hear that you collapse from fatigue, too exhausted move anything except your eyelids?
  • Has conversation swirled into a vortex, put you in its eye as you try to understand just one word, and then hit you with its back wall of sound?
  • Have you felt so disconnected from your world and other people that you give up hope of living a happy, productive life?
  • Have you seen people talking to you or about you, and immediately reject you with assertions of “nevermind”?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you can certainly empathize with sufferers of depression. Perhaps, in a greater possibility, you have experienced symptoms that can be found in  depression before discovering your hearing loss. Depression’s  signs, such as difficulty concentrating, fatigue, loss of interest in socializing and favorite activities, can also happen before hearing loss is properly managed. Being able to answer this article’s opening questions reveals your empathy, and why Mental Health Awareness Month (last May in the US) should matter to hearing impaired people.

Photo credit: Elizabeth M

As I mentioned in my previous article, depression-like symptoms can be a manifestation of untreated hearing loss. We bear the stigmas of mental illness if our losses are not understood because hearing loss symptoms can have strong resemblance to those of depression. What may seem like a curse, however, can be transformed into a gift if we understand the power that we wield. Stigmas, while being forced upon us by society, can be ended if we choose to speak out.

In discussing depression-like symptoms of untreated hearing loss, we can communicate that health problems, whether physical or mental, are never a choice. We can dispel the notion that being too exhausted to move is the result of “bad behavior”, or that disconnection from others is unwillingness to communicate. Some of us may suffer from chemical imbalances, as well as the strains that come before a hearing loss diagnosis. Others may know they’re hearing impaired, but fear the diagnoses because of hearing aid costs. Regardless of origin, however, we have the capability of empathizing with mentally ill individuals because of the experiences that come before we understand our hearing loss.

What can come of empathizing with mentally ill individuals? You’d be surprised where a little empathy can lead. Nearly all of my closest friends and boyfriends have suffered with a mental illness or condition of some sort—depression, ADHD, Asperger’s, anxiety. Though our symptoms originate from different places, we help each other if and when our symptoms overlap.

Understanding the feeling of sound swirling into a vortex helps me recognize signs of when friends with anxiety or Asperger’s are overwhelmed by noisy crowds. Friends with ADHD taught me techniques to maintain focus in lectures exceeding an hour, and how to listen—a skill with which I still struggle. Relationships have often begun with bonding over fatigued feelings that people who have not experienced depression or hearing loss cannot easily understand.

Without empathizing with people who are mentally ill, I would have spent many of my high school and college years in a painfully lonely place. With only 17% of hearing impaired individuals  in the US wearing hearing aids, the likelihood that I would find another hearing impaired person my age was low. Reaching out to mentally ill individuals started as a means of overcoming loneliness, but became a way of better understanding of the stigma mental illness carries. The stigma can affect hearing impaired people in the presentation of our symptoms, but it is one that we lose when our health problems are made obvious. Even with medication, mental illness can never entirely subside and the stigma never goes away. I lost it once I got a hearing aid, but the stigma will never leave most of my friends and exes.

Maybe some people can stand back when they watch others be ostracized for pains they understand, but I cannot. After experiencing depression-like symptoms from an undiagnosed hearing loss, I cannot be silent as ill friends are stigmatized. We, as hearing impaired people, have amazing power when we take our experiences and use them to help others and end prejudices of all kinds. Symptoms, regardless of origin, are never choices. Making this statement will help people recognize why stigmatizing mental illness is wrong. Outside of a doctor’s office, symptom origins should never matter in the treatment of other people. If we stand up to this stigma by discussing overlaps in symptoms,we can try to end the stigma on macro and micro levels.

For the latter, we can get involved through government resources, such as mentalhealth.gov. The former can be achieved through something as simple as opening your heart to another person’s experience. Even small actions are a big step in ending the stigma, as well as learning more through contact with others. Regardless of which method you choose, I hope you get involved in promoting mental health awareness, especially if you could say “yes” to the questions that opened this article.

Mimi Is Making Me Dream

When I did my frustrating trial of the M-DEX two years ago, I kind of gave up on using my hearing aids with my phone. I have a mute programme for when I need to put the phone to my ear (I have open tips), but most of the time, I take my hearing aids out, put my earbuds in, and crank up the volume.

Here’s what I wished for at the time:

I can’t believe there isn’t a simple “equalizer” software or application for my phone which I could feed my audiogram to and which would then amplify the frequencies I need. Clearly it wouldn’t be as good as a proper hearing aid, but I’m sure it would help a bit. If you know more about why this isn’t done, I’m all ears (!).

A few weeks ago, Vincent sent me a link to the Mimi launch announcement. It’s worth taking a few minutes to watch the video below:

Continue reading “Mimi Is Making Me Dream”

Tell Them, I Say

The other day I was chatting with my podologist (who is also a friend) and the topic of hearing aids and hearing loss came up.

She was surprised to learn i had hearing aids (we’re not close, so it’s understandable she didn’t know), and quickly started telling me about how many of her clients are elderly people who are hard of hearing. She said she often had to repeat things and had made it a habit of speaking loudly.
Continue reading “Tell Them, I Say”

How I “Get” People to Talk to me so I Can Understand Them

A complaint I’ve heard a few times lately in the hearing loss support groups I hang out in is that “full-hearing” people resist making the effort to talk to us in such a way that we can understand them. Or they do sometimes, but then forget. I feel a lot of frustration around this for some people, sometimes translated into judgements about the other “not caring” or “not paying attention” or “being offended”.


This reminds me a little, in a “through the looking-glass” way, of how we “less-hearing” people are sometimes accused of “not paying attention”, “not making an effort”, or “being distracted”.

Continue reading “How I “Get” People to Talk to me so I Can Understand Them”

Becoming a Part of the Family

As I write this post I am reminded that we all are different, that we all are unique in our journey to our current day. How exciting it all is and even more special that we can share it via modern technology.

Nicole at Sonova

My transition to audiology is not one of the “classic” stories you hear. I don’t know anyone with hearing loss, I have no family history of hearing loss or hearing aid use, and I was never exposed to hearing loss throughout school.

How is it then that I ended up as an audiologist? Continue reading “Becoming a Part of the Family”