It's not easy to truly understand hearing loss and the day-to-day difficulties people experience living with significant hearing loss. Hearing loss simulators can give you a glimpse into what hearing loss is like for a few moments, but it does not simulate the stress felt to spend a day coping with actual in your face, deal with it now, situations. To better understand and be able to convey what it is like having debilitating hearing loss, I spent most of a day wearing custom solid silicone earplugs. The earplugs created what is considered by audiologists a moderate hearing loss. Most people would consider it a significant effort to understand speech one on one.
60 Second Read - Living 1 Day With Moderate Hearing Loss
I wanted to fully understand what it was like to experience hearing loss. Even if it was for just 1 day. Solid earplugs are amazingly good at simulating moderate hearing loss and well, it worked. I had to ask people to repeat things and I quickly found myself coping in different ways such as pretending I understood when I didn't. It was mentally exhausting to listen to music or anybody talking by the end of the day and that mental effort became physically tiring. You really begin to understand why people become depressed and isolated. Although my hearing loss was instant I can see now how hearing loss can sneak up on people over years and how denial (at first I tried to tell myself it was no big deal I can get around it) sets in. The big lesson I learned, hearing loss is hard on people and you can't beat hearing loss on your own. It only makes sense to get help sooner than later before all the problems get worse.
After struggling through a day with hearing loss you really begin to understand why people become depressed and isolated.
Degrees of Hearing loss
Based on the chart below, the custom earplugs did a great job of blocking sound across the frequency spectrum. As you can see the degree of hearing loss ranges from the high side of mild hearing loss to the low side of moderate hearing loss. To put things in perspective, a person speaks at about 50-60 dB and a whisper is 30 dB. We felt better to label the post moderate hearing loss than mild hearing loss to be more generous in our assessment and not be accused of over stating the situation.
Mild hearing loss: Hearing loss of 20 to 40 decibels.
Moderate hearing loss: Hearing loss of 41 to 60 decibels.
Severe hearing loss: Hearing loss of 61 to 80 decibels.
Profound hearing loss or deafness: Hearing loss of more than 81 decibels
At first you kind of think to yourself, I can work my way through the day, how bad could it be? Yeah. Well, as it turns out every time you need to communicate it is an effort; everything is added stress.
Running Errands With My New Hearing Loss
It is Saturday morning and I have a few errands to run. So, I pop down to the car and the first thing I must do is adjust stereo volume up. What is odd is the sound quality is not that great because it is like someone cut off the high frequency range. Not happy about that I spend five minutes tinkering with the stereo only to realize I can get it close, but not quite 100% right. At this point I am starting to suspect this might be harder than I thought. What else am I going to miss out on today?
Ordering Fast Food
Saturday means its cheat day on the diet. So, on my way to run a few errands I figure I will grab breakfast at McDonalds. I figure this is easy because they have that electronic readout of your order. But what I did not consider was that there is no predicting the questions the order taker might ask. After giving my order I hear a question I cannot quite make sense of. A little panicked, I ask the woman taking my order to repeat her question and I realize she is wearing mask. The mask adds to the difficulty understanding in understanding speech and muffles everything. With no idea what she is asking for the second time, I just repeat my order to her and hope. As luck would have it the display shows it correctly. Granted, it is only a small stress, but it sets the tone for the day (so to speak).
With no idea what she is asking for the second time, I just repeat my order to her and hope.
Next stop is a bank deposit and sure enough the instant teller is down for maintenance. While waiting for a free machine an employee walks by and makes a comment that I barely catch. Not being 100% sure what they said about the machines I do the same thing I do my universal fix usually reserved for very loud environments when I don't have earplugs. I nod and smile. If I do not do the nod and smile, I will be asking at everyone I talk with throughout the day to repeat what they say to me at least once or more.
From my perspective, the "nod and smile" seems to work when I don't fully understand what someone says to me. But I'll bet half the time I look like someone who doesn't care to pay attention - a rude jerk.
Last Stop - CF Polo Park Shopping Mall
The last errand is a stop at the Sunglass Hut in Polo Park for quick repair. Although it was not busy and quite quiet, I found myself turning my head to the side to point my ear directly at the salesperson to better hear what they said. Normal conversation went well with only asking the sales person to please repeat what they had said just once. At this point I am starting to feel outright embarrassed having to ask people to repeat themselves.
Because it's embarrassing to have to repeatedly ask people to repeat what they said, many people suffering with hearing loss will avoid social events with lots of background noise because it makes understanding speech more difficult. This leads to social isolation.
Fire Trucks - Sirens & Road Safety
I now see how safety can be an issue with hearing loss. While driving home a fire truck had pulled onto Portage Avenue behind me a few blocks away. Normally I hear a bit of the siren and think it’s part of the song playing on the radio until I check by mirrors. In this case it was the other way around. Checking my mirrors picked up the flashing lights of the fire truck before I noticed the sound of the siren. It was not a huge difference, but I certainly noticed it. I can imagine if I was driving a car full of people chattering away with the music on, I might not have noticed the siren until vehicle was much closer. Especially if the fire truck was approaching from a side street where the buildings block most of the noise. Noticing sirens early gives a driver a bit more time to get out of the way and stay safe.
The overall goal of May - Speech and Hearing Loss awareness month, is to raise public awareness of communication health. It's a good time to start a conversation to gently coax someone needing a hearing test into taking that first step.
I Thought One Aspect Of Hearing Loss Might Be a Positive
The one thing I thought that would be a minor upside to simulating hearing loss, would be my ability to ignore things. Was I wrong! At least because my hearing loss was “instant” I did not have time to get used to the changes. Especially in voices where the missing high frequencies causes an issue understanding the difference between x and y. What happened was that when voices were hard to hear, I seemed to put more mental processing into deciphering them even though I was trying to ignore them. That was the exact opposite of what I expected to happen. So instead of happily ignoring someone talking I ended up working several times harder to understand the speech I wanted to ignore. It was bizarre to say the least. My only explanation is that familiar sounds are easy to ignore compared to unintelligible sounds as if the brain must attempt to recognize the sound..
“Consonants such as “s,” “h,” and “f,” which have higher frequencies and are harder to hear. Because consonants transmit the majority of the meaning in speech, it would only make sense that those with high-frequency hearing loss have trouble following conversations”
Not Hearing The Warning
The most annoying part of the car trip was getting home and almost locking my keys in the car. I was talking on my cell phone for a minute (with the volume maxed out and barely enough, of course) as I got out of the car I did not hear the warning beeps that the keys were still in the car. Normally, this would not have been an issue. and the audible warning would have queued me to check for my keys in the ignition.
Relaxing With A Movie
After what seemed to be a long day, it was time to relax at home watching a movie with the girlfriend. Although movies are generally loud, the dialogue is not always loud when compared to the effects and action scenes. At least not at normal volume levels with my simulated hearing loss. I found myself wanting to reach the remote control to turn it up during some dialog scenes but did not because then it would be too loud for her. I just didn't need a fight over the volume level or the grief of spending the entire movie raising and lowering the volume. This is when I gave up and pulled the ear plugs out. I had enough.
Nearly all hearing loss is treatable.
I realize my simulation was different from what most people experience. I went from fairly normal hearing to instant hearing loss compared to what most people deal with; a slow degradation of hearing over many years. Although it's over a period of years, I still find it amazing that people learn clever ways to cope with hearing loss, with some even learning to read lips without formal training. The biggest surprise was that the extra mental processing effort and awkward situations create a lot of extra stress over the course of the day. It was a grind all throughout the day.
The sooner you begin treatment the better your life will be.
By the end of the day it became abundantly obvious to me how people can become isolated and not want to be as socially active as they once were. It is embarrassing having to ask someone to repeat themselves, especially more than once. Avoiding problem situations altogether could easily seem like a viable solution. While it would be an easy solution, it certainly wouldn't be the best in the long run as untreated hearing loss can lead to a host of physical and mental problems including depression. The real solution is to get tested so that the underlying reason for the hearing loss can be identified and it can be treated. The thought of all that extra daily stress melting away and being able to hear all the things you have been missing is so incredibly worth while.
The First Step: A Hearing Evaluation
The first step in getting help is to have a complete hearing evaluation. The testing will pinpoint what requires attention and how it can be best treated. Everyone's hearing treatment needs are unique and may not require hearing aids. The only way to hear what you have been missing is to take the first step and get your hearing tested. To discuss your first step, please call us at (204) 788-1083 or contact us online.
Leslie Holden, the owner of the Polo Park Hearing Centre, talks about her mild hearing loss: click Treating Leslie's Hearing Loss.