Ah, December. That month of lively holiday parties, cozy and/or crazy family gatherings and crowds of shoppers in line at the checkout. The background music usually involves familiar Christmas carols—however, I noticed a decidedly secular playlist in use this year—that’s a topic for another blog post—but really, when did “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music earn holiday status? I do believe that one of my favorite traditional carols is Bing Crosby’s version of “Do you hear what I hear?” Of course, Bing’s singing always reminds me of my Dad, Juel, and with that expansive Bing arrangement featuring that huge symphonic bridge. Well, it’s just heavenly.
In the last few years I’ve become infinitely more aware of the sounds around me—background music, conversations in the checkout line, and my daughter’s voice across the kitchen table. You see I did a thing about two and a half years ago. I got hearing aides.
Ok, cue the old people references and sympathetic sadness. Actually, please don’t. Instead, listen up and join me in using my naming of these two tiny computers that sit in my ears—I call them my “ear candy.” They are sweet and make day to day life sweeter for me and those around me.
I share this story because you may also be noticing in yourself, a loved one, or co-worker what I noticed a few years ago in me. I was constantly saying, “Excuse me?” “Could you repeat that?” “What did you say?” or I even got good at smiling and nodding in fake understanding. (Full disclosure: I still do this depending on the setting). Worse yet, sometime I just tuned out. What else did I notice? Prior to receiving my ear candy, I was exhausted from listening so intently and then doing the mental gymnastics necessary to determine what I think the person most likely said. I’m sure Dan and our kids can recall many times when I failed to stick the landing/language.
So how do you get someone to visit their local audiologist? Let me share what my thoughtful husband did. He informed me that he made appointments “for both of us” because he was concerned about his hearing and thought I might as well get checked, too. Sneaky. He also shared some medical wisdom which kind of freaked me out. He said that it is better to get hearing aides sooner that later. Apparently, if you wait too long your brain can forget how to hear and won’t respond as well to amplification. (ok, that’s probably an oversimplification, but it got my attention.)
Our date to the audiologist was painless and predictable—I needed hearing correction and he didn’t. The process of getting fitted for my ear candy was fascinating. The expertise of my audiologist and the technology available is amazing. It’s one of the those times in your life when you’re glad you live in the 21st century. Side note: I also got to choose a color for these bad boys that hang on/in my ears. It’s not unlike choosing paint color for a new car.
I still remember clearly the day I received my ear candy. My daughter, Julia, and I were in the elevator leaving the clinic and she still laughs thinking how I jumped when I heard the elevator DING. The things I must have been missing . . . I got in the car and noticed I could turn the volume down on my radio about 50%. She and I had a great conversation on the way home. No more whats or repeats.
I recently visited with my friend, Noreen Gibbons, an audiologist from Hendersonville, Tennessee. Backstory–we met on an airplane about a year ago and bonded over all things hearing and health related. I asked her about the energy I have felt the last couple of years since getting my hearing aides. She understood, saying, “There is a huge fatigue factor with hearing loss. The listening effort that you have to expend each day takes away energy from other tasks.” Scientifically, it’s referred to as the Cognitive Load Theory and it provides a reasonable explanation for why hearing aides enhance listeners’ working memory and executive function (Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2018 Oct 13). When listeners spend less effort on the primary task of understanding speech they have more capacity to remember key information, eliminate unnecessary information, and perform the secondary task quickly. (Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 2009 Oct;52(5):123).
Noreen suggested a common sense approach to hearing loss, “Just as weight creeps up on us as we age, or sun exposure accumulates, or gum disease increases–hearing loss creeps up on us, too. It is so much easier to deal with it early on.” So, if you’re watching your calories, visiting your dermatologist, or going to your dentist regularly, you could also add an audiology appointment to your calendar.
Ok, now it’s time for a vanity check. I’ll admit I avoided wearing a pony tail for several months after getting my ear candy. I’ve come to my senses on that. Honestly, these things are so small, they are barely noticeable. My goal is to make wearing ear candy cool. I might even go back to my fifth grade pixie haircut. Stay tuned on that. Noreen shared some fascinating research regarding the social stigma of wearing hearing aides. People wearing them used to be perceived as being “old” and “impaired.” She said that stigma has almost disappeared. The reason? So many people wear some kind of in ear device from wireless ear buds to headphones that they seem to go unnoticed. She adds, “Interestingly, the stigma is gone in the general public but still present in those that wear hearing aides.” Not me, not anymore.
So, do you hear what I hear? Life is too short to miss your favorite Christmas carol, the sound of your daughter’s voice, or an important conversation at the boardroom table. It might be time to make a date with one of your favorite people and head to the local audiologist. Sounds like a perfect new year’s resolution to me!
For those of you who aren’t experiencing any loss of your hearing, here’s a new year’s resolution idea for you: Resolve to protect the hearing capabilities that you currently have. Wear hearing protection (earplugs) at concerts, when operating machinery, or while hunting and in any other loud environments. Be smart when listening to podcasts and music on your head phones. Keep those inexpensive foam ear plugs handy and hand them out like candy!
Ah, Happy New Year, my friends! Let’s celebrate the fact that we get to live in 2019 with all its technology and experts that are here to help us hear the new year ring in.