hearing loss

How to Communicate Better, and More Compassionately, With People With Hearing Loss

By Mary Florentine, Ph.D., Julia B. Florentine, and Michael J. Epstein, Ph.D. 

A trio of experts with both professional and personal connections to hearing loss share advice for better communication. 

They are a distinguished professor emeritus and expert in psychoacoustics (how humans perceive sounds); her daughter  who coaches communication skills and researches the link between language, language, and mental health; and an auditory scientist  who has investigated hearing better in background noise. 

Here they tell us what individuals with hearing loss say works and why these tips are effective.

“Look at me, and take your hands away from your mouth. Please don’t exaggerate your pronunciation.”

Many people have learned to use visual information from the mouth and facial expressions along with the sounds they receive to understand speech. The words “bother” and “father” sound very similar to people with hearing loss, but they look different when they are being said. The lips come together for “bother” to make a puff of air to start the word; the air coming through the mouth is continuous at the start of “father.”

Using these cues to understand speech is called “speechreading.” It used to be called “lip reading,” but we now know that we use more than information from the lips. Facial expressions also help.

Although there are excellent speechreading courses, some people learn to speechread on their own without formal training. Whether a person has had formal training speechreading or not, be sure that they can see your face.

Although many words can be speechread, others cannot. If you go to the mirror and say “mom, bomb,” in a natural manner and speed, they look the same on your lips. Speechreading can be helpful, but do not expect that someone can understand all speech 100 percent of the time using speechreading alone.

Many people exaggerate their pronunciation because they think it will make them easier to understand, but it can actually make it worse. Exaggerated pronunciation changes speechreading cues and may bring unwanted attention from others who can see you. Speak naturally. 

If you are eating while talking, make sure that you swallow the food in your mouth before you start to talk. Holding food in your mouth while talking will also change the speechreading cues. 

Don’t talk in the dark; good lighting is important. Don’t talk from the other room unless the listener can see through walls! And get their attention first, such as by asking “Can you hear me?” before speaking.

“If I do not hear you the first time, please repeat with different words.”

Some words are more difficult to hear than others. When a person with hearing loss misses a word, they often ask the speaker to repeat what they said. Most people will repeat the word that the person did not hear the first time.

If the listener does not hear the word again, some people continue to say the same word. Each time the word gets a little louder. This situation is extremely annoying to both the speaker and the listener.

If a person does not hear a word, it may be because the sound of that word might be especially difficult for them to process, and they do not have enough context to help them piece together the meaning. Saying the same thing with different words is a better strategy; it gives them another way to understand the message. If the word is an object and you both can see it, point or gesture. Writing or texting the word can be useful.

Even if you are having difficulty getting them to understand what you are saying, never give up and say, “Never mind.” You may think that what you have to say may not be that important, and you may be right. But the person with hearing loss wants to know what you said and is likely to feel left out. If you are having difficulty getting someone to understand, or you need to finish the conversation, it is better to say, “I’ll tell you later.” But if you say this, remember to tell them later or they will not believe you the next time.

The “I’ll tell you later” response can work well when the conditions for communication are bad or when you need time to think of a way to rephrase (and not just repeat) what you said.  

“Let’s try to limit or avoid background noise. I do not hear well in noisy environments.” 

It is difficult for people without hearing loss to understand the impact of background noise on a person with hearing loss. This is because they hear differently. People without hearing loss efficiently filter out unwanted noise, except when in the most extreme noise environments. People with hearing loss experience varying amounts of difficulty doing the same thing.

Every time we listen, unless we are in a sound-isolating chamber, we hear the sounds we want to hear mixed with sounds we do not want to hear. 

We usually get used to it and can tune out low-level background noises, such as the hum of a refrigerator or ventilation system fans. We can also tune out most other background noises, except when it gets very loud and/or really bothers us, like when a buzzing insect flies by.

People with hearing loss have difficulty separating out unwanted sounds. Most very low-level sounds are usually not a problem because they are not heard. Moderate and loud sounds that mix with speech can be a big problem. 

Noisy restaurants are always a problem, although there are ways to minimize the problem. You could go at a less crowded time, or ask for a quiet table away from the kitchen and the bar. If that doesn’t work, vote with your feet and go to another restaurant with better acoustics. You can look for reviews of quiet restaurants and even rate them yourself.

At home, you have more control over background noise. You can simply turn off the television or radio. If the person with hearing loss is watching television and you need to speak to them, ask them to put the television on pause or mute. If noise is coming from the hall, you can shut the door.

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Many other background sounds can occur at home. Don’t talk while washing dishes in the kitchen sink, using a food processor, or any other appliance that makes noise. Outside the home, you have less control over noise. It is usually best not to try to talk while walking outside on a noisy street and when you cannot face your conversational partner. Seek ways to limit background noise or wait until you are in a better environment to communicate.

We hope these strategies help facilitate better communication and engaging conversations for you and your loved ones.

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This is excerpted from “How to Talk to People With Hearing Loss,” available at glistentraining.co.uk/book and also previously appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Hearing Health magazine. Mary Florentine, Ph.D. (far left) is a Matthews Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Northeastern University in Boston. Julia B. Florentine is the director, coach, and trainer at Glisten Training, which she founded, based in theU.K. Michael J. Epstein, Ph.D., is an auditory scientist, writer, filmmaker, and musician.

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Estrogen’s Role in Hearing and Protecting Against Hearing Loss

By Christopher Geissler, Ph.D.

While the anatomy of the inner ear does not vary much among individuals, differences in hearing and hearing loss in men and women are well documented. A recent review of these differences by Benjamin Z. Shuster, Didier A. Depireux, Ph.D., Jessica A. Mong, Ph.D., and Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the Hearing Health Foundation’s Hearing Restoration Project, appeared in the June 2019 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 

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Surveying the existing literature, the authors summarize what is known about estrogen’s role in protecting against or lessening the effects of hearing loss. Estrogen is a hormone present in all human beings but in higher levels generally in individuals who identify as female. 

Documented sex differences include better outer hair cell function and more prominent auditory brainstem response in women. Women also have lower rates of hearing loss than men, and men also experience declines in hearing more rapidly than their female counterparts. 

There is substantial evidence that estrogen plays a role in these differences, which is unsurprising, given that sex hormones are often behind physiological differences between the sexes. Studies demonstrate that estrogen helps determine hearing ability and can protect hearing over time. 

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But despite ample evidence of estrogen’s role in hearing, scientists are still not entirely sure how it works. Further research on estrogen and hearing will help scientists develop treatments for age-related and noise-induced hearing loss. 

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A better understanding of estrogen’s role in hearing and differences between the sexes is also important because, as the authors point out, “a large sex bias still exists in many aspects of hearing research,” which means that studies that involve only men or that do not account for sex at all could lead to the development of treatments that will be less effective for women.

Christopher Geissler, Ph.D. is Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s director of program and research support. Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., is a member of HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project consortium based at University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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I Hear a Symphony: For U-M Violin Student, Hearing Loss is Not a Disability

Violin teacher Danielle Belen uses a lot of gestures and hand signals but not many words. Her student, Abigel Szilagyi, relies on vibrations, muscle memory and instincts.

Learning to play an instrument can be difficult for anyone, but Szilagyi must work through her own challenges: She was born with just 50% of her hearing.

When Belen, an associate professor of violin at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and Szilagyi, a violin soloist and chamber musician, started working together in California seven years ago, it took nearly two months before Belen learned her then-14-year-old student had only half of her hearing. And she didn’t notice herself—the musician’s mom broke the news about her daughter’s unique circumstance.

Credit: Szilagyi personal archive

Credit: Szilagyi personal archive

“Her mother asked me if I had noticed anything different about Abi,” Belen said. “I quickly answered, yes, she is very talented and I am totally drawn by her passion.”

The answer was not wrong, but incomplete.

“Her mom looked directly into my eyes and said, ‘Abi is partially deaf!'” Belen said.

Belen had never worked with a student who was hard-of-hearing, so it was difficult to imagine how this would work.

“But something immediately in her personality showed me that it would be possible,” she said. “I was quite impressed with her ability for her age.”

With passion and extra discipline, Szilagyi has never stopped playing the violin. In 2016, she was accepted to the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance and moved to Ann Arbor, where Belen has taught since 2014.

Szilagyi, who will be a junior at U-M this fall, said she had many instructors before Belen, but there was no connection.

Credit: Szilagyi personal archive

Credit: Szilagyi personal archive

“I wanted someone who believed in me and who saw my hearing problem not as an inability, but an ability,” she said. “I wanted someone who understood my hearing disability was as much a part of me as being a musician because I always wanted to connect these two parts of me.”

When Szilagyi was 4, doctors discovered she was born with a 50% sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. A couple of months later, she got her first set of hearing aids, and on the way home heard a “lovely and vibrant singing sound.”

“I then heard the birds chirping for the first time in my life,” Szilagyi said. “I was so drawn to how they could make such beautiful music. This sparked my desire to become a musician.

“It is amazing how your body can adapt. I am very observant. I learned lip reading, body movements, facial expressions and other types of communication that really help me to play well and find the correct tune.”

Belen explained that when Szilagyi’s basic level of hearing is diminished, her other senses pop up, especially her sense of touch.

“She can imitate sounds and mannerisms and has a remarkable skill of imitation,” Belen said. “Her visual cues are very sophisticated. She is like clay—moldable, flexible—yet she has her own identity as well. She is truly the ideal young artist.”

Hearing aids, ear plugs and no ear plugs

During her freshman year at U-M, Szilagyi suffered some serious ear infections that led to further damage to her fragile hearing. During the entire fall semester, she could not wear hearing aids because of sharp pain.

Again, no quitting, just a break and new adaptations. Now, the only way Szilagyi can play and tolerate the sounds is to wear ear plugs.

“It is a hard thing to explain,” she said. “While I struggle to hear ordinary sounds and conversations at a normal volume, my ears are extremely sensitive to loud sounds and pressure and it causes sharp pain in my ears.”

Her professor works closely to adapt to whatever Szilagyi needs to do.

“Her lessons are a bit crazy to watch,” Belen said “She has her hearing aids near by and they go in and out. When I need to talk to her, it goes in, and when she is playing, it goes out. It is challenging, but somehow, we are managing it.

“Instead of being frustrated, she laughs. As serious as the situation is, she is able to look at the big picture and realize that this is all joy. She has an amazing attitude. I know there are tears, sacrifices, pain and frustration, but there is also gratitude. She always rises from the challenges, and I am sure she will have a unique and important career as a violinist.”

This article was repurposed with permission from Michigan News, University of Michigan.

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Hazardous Noise Can Affect More Than Your Hearing

By Strom & Associates

Each year, hazardous noise causes about 22 million workers in America to suffer a hearing loss on the job, and that hearing loss can affect everything from the quality of life to income potential and the ability to work. Understanding the far-reaching implications of permanent, irreversible hearing loss is critical for workers to protect their health and mental well-being.

Risk of Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Noise is one of the most misunderstood workplace hazards. The risk of hearing loss due to workplace exposure is significant. If the noise in a workplace is higher than 85 decibels average over eight hours, permanent hearing loss can occur. Even the noise from a carpenter’s shop or a farming operation can reach this threshold daily.

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Hearing Loss Affects Mental Health

People who have untreated hearing loss report a number of mental health issues. They may feel angry or irritable, and often they feel lonely because they are not able to interact with other people easily. This can cause them to avoid social situations. Untreated hearing loss can cause stress, fatigue, and undue tension. Some people with this condition also suffer from depression.

Hearing Loss Affects Income Potential

Hearing loss suffered on the job can also impact a worker’s overall income potential. When a worker cannot hear, he or she may not be able to do a job to the fullest. Reduced job performance can make it difficult to get promotions or raises. It can also lower the individual’s earning power because certain jobs require a full use of hearing to perform safely.

Additional Effects of Hearing Loss

In addition to income potential and mental health concerns, hearing loss can impact an individual’s overall quality of life. This is difficult to measure, but the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates hearing loss takes away 2.5 healthy years from workers exposed to work noises. Also, hearing loss can impair an individual’s memory and ability to learn new tasks.

The effects of hearing loss reach far beyond the ears. When workers are aware of the long-term and far-reaching impacts of hearing loss, the importance of using protective equipment may become more evident even if the sounds do not seem overly loud in the workplace.

This article was republished with permission from Strom & Associates, a Chicago-based personal injury law firm. For more, see https://stromlawyers.com.

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The Man Who Chased Sound Wore Hearing Aids

By Sue Baker

The inventor who changed music and the guitar player who had a room full of music awards wore hearing aids. Legendary musician Les Paul spent his whole life looking for the perfect sound. Ironically, for a good portion of his life he had to pursue his passion for sound while wearing hearing aids.

Before Les Paul performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, Marty Garcia adjusts his hearing enhancers. Credit: Christopher Lentz.

Before Les Paul performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, Marty Garcia adjusts his hearing enhancers. Credit: Christopher Lentz.

Les’s hearing loss started in 1969 when a friend playfully hit him over his right ear, causing his eardrum to break. Surgery to repair the damage had its own complications and Les was left with compromised hearing. A few years later another friend did the same thing to Les’s other ear with the same devastating results.

Les disliked how his initial hearing aids made voices sound “tinny” and higher pitched than normal and began to look for a solution. He explored options with numerous audio and hearing aid companies. In the mid-1990s Les connected with Marty Garcia who over time became his go-to audio friend, helping to improve his hearing aids.

The founder of audio and earphone company Future Sonics, Marty created the customized Ear Monitors brand to help entertainers reduce vocal and hearing fatigue. Les tried Ear Monitors during performances and said the devices’ special transducers took his hearing back 35-plus years.

Each Monday night Les performed two sets at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club. For two hours before the first performance, he did a sound check, analyzing every component. Les had the settings on all the sound equipment photographed so that each week he could tinker with them and study the effect of his changes.

After the shows, Les wanted to be available to sign autographs and meet his audience. To his frustration, he found that it took him too long to change from his onstage Ear Monitors to his “regular” hearing aids. Many fans left before Les could connect with them. Marty’s response was to create a hearing enhancer that Les could wear while performing as well as for everyday use.

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Les often joked about his hearing aids. If a battery went out while he was performing, Les would tell his audience not to get their hearing aids at a hardware store. He and Marty also understood that people hear not just with their ears, but with their brains. Together they created a way for the man who chased sound to be able to continue to enjoy and perform it.

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Sue Baker is the program director for the Les Paul Foundation, and thanks Marty Garcia, Christopher Lentz, and Arlene Palmer for help with this article. For more, see lespaulfoundation.org. Hearing Health Foundation is grateful to the Les Paul Foundation for its commitment to funding tinnitus research through HHF’s Emerging Research Grants program.

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Veterans Sue Over Defective Hearing Protection

By Joseph Oot

Veterans nationwide are filing lawsuits against the military equipment manufacturer 3M, after a July 2018 verdict concluded the company’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) were defective. The verdict in this whistleblower lawsuit, filed by Moldex-Metric on behalf of the U.S. government, paved the way for service members seeking legal restitution.  

This case began three years ago in May 2016 when Moldex-Metric, a California-based company in the military equipment industry, brought charges against their competitor, 3M. The plaintiff claimed that the original manufacturer of the CAEv2 devices, Aearo Technologies which was purchased by 3M in 2008, colluded to manipulate product tests and falsify data in order to achieve government standards and sales. Moldex-Metric was able to present evidence that both Aearo and 3M continued to sell the defective devices for more than 10 years, even though the devices were found to be too short, a defect that made the equipment difficult to properly insert in the ear. As a result, the devices were loose fitting, prone to fall out, and inadequately provided the level of protection claimed by the manufacturer.

After years of litigation, 3M agreed to settle the allegations in July 2018. 3M was ordered to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million in damages—but none of these damages compensated CAEv2 users, and 3M said this settlement was not an admission of liability. However, the verdict against 3M likely sparked the flood of class-action lawsuits filed since then.

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More than 300 lawsuits have been filed by service members seeking restitution. Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Matt Morrison of New Jersey is one such service member who in February 2019 filed his case against 3M. He says the CAEv2 devices were the direct cause of the complete hearing loss he has sustained in his right ear. While deployed between 2007 and 2013, including two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan, he was frequently exposed to loud equipment, machinery, gunfire, and explosions.

Along with thousands of other service members, Morrison says he came to rely on the standard-issue hearing protection as much as a bulletproof vest. "The gear you're issued is everything from a helmet to a flak jacket, eye and ear protection. I never thought that, after the fact, the gear would be faulty or defective and cause this kind of injury," Morrison told a local news reporter.

Like Morrison, active duty military members are exposed to machinery, aircraft, and sudden weaponry blasts leaving their ears susceptible to noises as loud as 184 decibels (dBA). Sounds at or above 110 dBA can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus instantaneously without hearing protection. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports tinnitus and hearing loss are the most common disabilities among veteran service members, with 60 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan living with one or both of the conditions today.

Both the military and hearing loss communities take seriously all reports of defective hearing protection, especially given the prevalence and permanence of hearing loss and tinnitus among veterans. Without a commitment to strict product performance, user testing, and data verification standards, service members will remain at risk.

Joseph Oot is a writer with ConsumerSafety.org, an organization connecting individuals with information on developing lawsuits, court cases, and recent news affecting consumers. As a consumer advocate, Oot works with both individuals and industry professionals to share helpful information surrounding potentially harmful products.

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Hair Cell Eulogy

By Dawn Doig

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People don’t seem to understand the damage they’ll incur
The way that birds’ songs, music, voices, all become a blur -
When the ears are not protected from loud music, shotgun blasts;
The birdsong they heard yesterday may have been their last...

The problem is maybe ignorance, lack of info about the ear
And how its “innards” function when it’s enabling us to hear.
The inner ear is lined with hair cells that when healthy will respond
To incoming sound energy from the ear canal and beyond.

Some hair cells dance to drum beats, some dance to jingling bells,
But regardless of the dance they do, they know their dances well.
The mighty “Endo” (Endolymph) taught them all from the very start
To learn the dance for hearing’s sake; to learn it all by heart.

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Endolymph is a fluid that courses through the inner ear
And when Endo starts to move too fast, the hair cells cringe with fear -
Fear of death impending if Endo moves too fast
For hair cells fall like blades of grass as Endo rages past.

What causes Endo’s rages? - for a warning’s never there
And the hair cells least expecting are the ones who never fare.
Amidst a dance of merriment, the rage takes them by surprise
And one by one the hair cells die before the others’ eyes.

One day a shotgun blast went off and downed a startled moose
Another day another blast downed an unsuspecting goose.
Both moments enraged Endo, who pounded in his fury
And lunged upon some hair cells who would otherwise be merry.

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The dance to birds’ songs dwindled first as yet another hair cell died;
The remainder knew their fate too well and curled up and cried -
They wept for all their comrades who had lost their lives in vain,
If only muffs or earplugs were worn, they would not have such pain.

They had to strain for spoken words, some still tried to dance,
But numbers now as they were, the hair cells didn’t have a chance.
How hard they tried to make new sounds as loud and clear as before,
But with their numbers now so low, they couldn’t do it anymore.

Farm machinery, music blaring at volumes much too high,
Snowmobiling, off-roading - they all make hair cells die.
Why risk the chance of losing a hair cell dance or two?
Wear ear protection and smother Endo’s rage -

THE DECISION’S UP TO YOU!!

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Dawn Diog is a clinical audiologist. Originally from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada,, she resides in Cameroon, West Africa where she is the English Language Learners (ELL) coordinator for the American School of Yaounde.

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Doing My Best

By India Mattia

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My hearing loss appeared suddenly, at age 61, when I woke up for work unable to hear in my right ear. With no history of difficulty hearing, I was completely stunned. Did I, I wondered, damage my ear with loud music in my headset yesterday?

In a panic, I requested an immediate appointment with my primary care doctor. He prescribed antibiotics and recommended I see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT, or otolaryngologist) if my hearing did not return.

The antibiotics did not help my hearing, and upon the visit to the ENT I learned I had become completely deaf in my right ear and had developed a small hearing loss in my left ear. She suggested injecting steroids into my right ear to restore my hearing. I was apprehensive about having a needle stuck in my ear, but the doctor assured me that the novocaine would numb any pain. I agreed, and the procedure made me feel dizzy.  

One week and two injections later, my hearing had not come back. The ENT could not identify the cause with certainty. She thought it might be an infection. But I couldn’t think of ways I would have gotten infected, and to me I didn’t see any obvious signs of an infection.

Soon my hearing loss was accompanied by vertigo, tinnitus, and ear pain. Every time I moved a certain way, I felt my head spin. I relied on the keep the radio to block out my tinnitus and took Tylenol to dull the pain. My ENT referred me to a specialist at John Hopkins Hospital, but the first appointment I could secure was two months away, in August.

Meanwhile, I began to adapt to the challenges of hearing loss in my daily life. No longer able to hear my alarm clock to wake up for work, I switched to a vibrating pillow alarm. I watched TV with Bluetooth headphones to avoid disturbing my family with the high volume I needed to hear. I couldn’t manage noisy spaces, though. Restaurants, outdoor events, and loud traffic were unbearable to me.

I began to feel embarrassed and ashamed of having to ask people to speak louder or repeat themselves. I was afraid to tell my coworkers at the real estate office where we worked, but confided in my supervisor, who was sympathetic. Outside of work, my husband often advocated for me by telling others about my hearing loss.

When I thought circumstances couldn’t get worse, I learned my office was to close in July, leaving me without a job. I hoped to make ends meet with the severance pay and unemployment compensation while looking for work.

The John Hopkins doctor confirmed an infection had caused permanent sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. He recommended a hearing aid, but I cannot afford one.

I remain without a job and my unemployment compensation has ended. I have had a few job interviews—but have kept my hearing loss a secret—and have done my best understand the interviewers’ spoken questions. Aside from my hearing loss, age discrimination makes job hunting difficult. I don’t qualify for social security disability benefits because my hearing loss is only in one ear.

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All this said, my hearing loss has led me to make some positive lifestyle changes. I read more often than before and have swapped rock and roll for soft music. I’ve reduced my sodium intake and eliminated caffeine which is supposed to improve blood flow to the ear. I ride an exercise bike and have taken up t’ai chi to stay physically active.

I applied for early social security retirement since I will be 62 in June. I am also applying for social security disability for both my hearing loss and asthma, which I have had since my late 20s. I am hopeful something will come through. My story may not have an inspiring ending, but I’m doing my best and looking toward better days.

India Mattia lives in Maryland.

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A Woman's Canine Ears

By Barbara M.      

I always knew I wanted to work with people after high school. Though I struggled throughout my education, I graduated, miraculously, thanks to my supportive family and hearing aid technology. With a high school degree I was eligible for Vocational Nurses (VN) school, a career I maintained for over 23 years.

My sensorineural hearing loss was diagnosed at around age 4, well before newborn hearing screenings were commonplace, in 1954. “Barbie needs to see your face when you talk, Mommy,” my sister announced one day, cluing my parents into a possible hearing problem.

Barbara and her most recent hearing dog (HD), Fallon.

Barbara and her most recent hearing dog (HD), Fallon.

I wore behind-the-ear hearing aids and equally relied upon speech-reading, but academics were a constant challenge. Math was the most difficult for me because my teachers often faced the chalkboards, not us students, while writing and explaining equations. My family spent many hours tutoring math to me to ensure I passed.

After high school, I was employed as a nurse’s aide in a long-term care facility. I enjoyed working with and helping the elderly patients, which encouraged me to apply to VN training school. I entered with strong professional references and my two instructors were aware of my hearing loss, so I felt secure.

During the last week of the six-week academic training, which immediately precedes clinical duty training, one of the VN instructors requested a private meeting. She had concerns about my hearing loss. “What if you’re in a situation where you could not hear a patient call/cry out?” she pressed.

Devastated, I reasoned with her hoping she would allow me to begin clinical duty on a trial basis to prove my ability to meet their expectations. I suggested this even though I knew in my heart it would personally difficult to withstand 17 additional months of required training under her surveillance. She pushed back, expressing I could be jeopardizing a patient's life or she could lose her job. I was crushed! I ultimately chose to withdraw from this VN school, knowing I’d be accepted to another school. I was—and graduated to go on to pass the California State Board for licensure.

Some time after my licensure, I was driving past my first VN school and a thought occurred to me; I needed to share my good news with my once doubtful instructor. The instructor with whom I spoke remembered me and congratulated me on my achievement. We chatted amicably before she revealed that the 'other' instructor had since resigned—due to hearing loss she experienced the year after I withdrew from the VN program. I was in disbelief! I hoped she, too, had not faced discrimination. Empathetically, I expressed my concern that no one should be discriminated against because of their disability.

About halfway into my nursing career, in the 1980s, I found myself with the need to to hear more and relied more on speech-reading. I often felt tired and mentally overloaded in noisy environments. One of my biggest challenges during this time was caring for my son, born in 1987. My husband, a firefighter who often worked 48-to-72-hour shifts away from home, cleverly devised a sound-activated light system to alert me when our son made noise or cried in his crib. This was a perfect solution, I thought—except in the case of power outages.

I needed to find another way to alert me to my son's voice at night. It came to me the following year while reading National Geographic, where I saw an advertisement about Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing them with service dogs and ongoing support. I applied and was paired up with Ronnie, my first Hearing Dog (HD), who helped me immensely by alerting me to important sounds within my home.

Gradually and for unknown reasons my hearing loss continued to decline and I found myself avoiding noisy establishments & places. In 1999 I made the decision to resign from employment so as to ensure quality patient care I no longer was able to auscultate (hear) important lung sounds using the stethoscope. With my skills as a nurse, I chose to transition to be a care provider for my aging parents-in-law, and later, my mother.

I am grateful I was able to remain productive after my resignation, largely because of the help of Ronnie and, later, his successor, Fallon, a Golden Retriever/Labrador mix. Fallon, who passed away in 2014, alerted me to ringing doorbells, whistling tea kettles, and ringing telephones. Though I’m no longer helping people, I’m so happy that Fallon was able to help me.

Ronnie and Fallon helped me to overcome my hidden handicap, a personal milestone towards acceptance of my hearing loss.

Barbara lives in Oregon with her husband, Dan.

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First Study to Examine Cognitive Development in Deaf Babies Finds Differences Begin in Infancy

By The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Deaf children face unique communication challenges, but a new study shows that the effects of hearing impairment extend far beyond language skills to basic cognitive functions, and the differences in development begin surprisingly early in life. Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are the first to study how deaf infants process visual stimuli compared to hearing infants and found they took significantly longer to become familiar with new objects.

 “This is somewhat counterintuitive because a lot of people assume that deaf children compensate for their lack of hearing by being better at processing visual things, but the findings of the study show the opposite,” said Claire Monroy, post doctorate otolaryngology fellow at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and co-author of the study.

Macey Kinney plays with her 10-month-old son Zealand, who was born deaf. A new study shows that developmental differences in deaf babies extend beyond language and hearing, and begin surprisingly early in life. Credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Macey Kinney plays with her 10-month-old son Zealand, who was born deaf. A new study shows that developmental differences in deaf babies extend beyond language and hearing, and begin surprisingly early in life. Credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

To test their visual processing skills, researchers showed infants different objects on a screen. When a baby has successfully encoded the object, they will lose interest and look away. This familiarization is what researchers call habituation. “Deaf infants took longer to habituate to the objects and looked away from them less than hearing infants,” said Derek Houston, associate professor of otolaryngology at Ohio State. “These results were surprising because you wouldn’t expect there to be such profound differences in a test that really has nothing to do with hearing.”

However, researchers say the results don’t necessarily mean that deaf children are learning at a slower pace. “Because they use vision to process the world around them, they may pay closer attention to visual objects,” said Houston. “They might actually be processing more about each object.”

Future research will examine why these differences in visual learning exist so that each child is taught in a way that works best for them and leads to healthy development. “Understanding the source of these differences can really help us tailor interventions specifically for these children,” said Monroy. “And the earlier that happens, the better.”

This article was republished with permission from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. See the original press release here.

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