Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Joy! Joy! To Be Able To Really Hear Again!
Back in the days when I was rockin' with a band we didn't know anything about the effect of exposure to loud sound levels -- be it the noise of an air compressor, the repeated discharge of a firearm, or, yes, loud rock music. But our ignorance did not lead to any bliss -- well, apart from the possibility of "blissful" forced silence.
I.e, "old" people went deaf. 'Twas just the way of things. ("Eh? What's that you say sonny?")
Now we know otherwise and hopefully younger guitar slingers are taking that painfully learned truth seriously.
For older rockers such as myself it is too late. The damage was done. And apart from the use of devices to regain some of what has been lost, irreversible.
But, oh, those devices! As I have learned recently the progress in "hearing aids" has been as great as in all the rest of the world of digital processing and miniaturization of electronic amplification and speaker technology.
My first foray into the world of electronic hearing correction, two years back, was a relative baby step. I researched, and then purchased for about $1000, a basic set of hearing amplifiers -- no prescription -- ones made with musicians in mind. That is, ones that amplified every sound frequency that is generally affected by hearing loss, equally.
They did what I'd hoped them to do. Well, much of it anyway. Music sounded good with them on -- nuanced -- not tinny, tubby or artificial.
My ability to understand speech was also helped a little -- but not as much as I'd have liked.
Jan, and others, were instructed to face me directly when speaking. The "TV" was turned up fairly loud. Not because I needed the volume to actually "hear" it -- but I did need it to understand what was being said -- to make it other than audible 'mush.'
But the passing of yet more time took yet more of a toll -- that is what happens over time once the mechanism of our ears has been damaged. Progressive loss continues on, diminishing our ability to hear a little more with each month by month; each passing year.
About a year ago my know everything (really! or so it seems) son, Aaron, had warned me of another deleterious effect: That hearing loss, if left uncorrected, leads to losses in mental capability as well.
I recently met with a PhD hearing professional and she reiterated that fact -- and explained it.
Senses such as hearing and balance use parts of the brain used for little else. When the auto functions start to fail for any reason other parts of the brain start to be utilized to make up for that loss, and with that comes noticeable (and measurable) cognitive losses.
A brain is too valuable a thing to waste. Hearing is best done by the parts of the brain normally assigned to it. And we should thus do whatever is in our power to assure such.
Okay, all that was the bad news. The good news, for me, was learning that here in NH insurance companies are required to include hearing devices in their coverage -- a minimum of $1500 per ear every five years. And with family medical expenses this year already having used up our deductible that gave me $3000 to put into trying to resolve my hearing loss issues.
The same professional mentioned above helped me evaluate what I needed as well as desired. And Jan and I both agreed that for me hearing was a worthwhile investment even if such cost quite a bit more than that provided by the insurance coverage. Music. Conversation. Cinema. All were essential to my quality of life. To the extent possible then, we decided to approach this with the attitude of "money be damned."
And so earlier this week I was fitted with the best. -Digital hearing devices exactly "tuned" to my personal hearing loss -- and with very advanced computer and electronic capabilities to allow the devices to do even more.
Now wearing them for several days of a trial period I am completely blown away.
The "speakers" themselves are so small they they fit in the ear. That is the actual speakers mind you, not just a tube carrying such speakers' output. A small (almost invisible) wire leads form the in-the-ear micro speaker to super-miniaturized digital processing and amplification units that sit (again, almost invisibly) behind each of my ears.
The full sound spectrum is amplified so as to exactly make up for the loss in my hearing across the entire frequency range and at various db levels. But that is just the start.
The two devices speak electronically (via Bluetooth technology) to one another -- analyzing the type of sound and it placement in space -- and then maximize the output to each ear -- even negating sound that the computer models see as unimportant.
For instance when driving a car with passengers in the front passenger seat and the rear, the units determine that the car's drone should be minimized, and then analyze each of the voices as to its placement. They then amplify each of them so it sounds natural, is fully understandable and properly placed in space -- front, rear, sides.
Driving home from the clinic following the initial fitting I was able to have a completely natural conversation -- this despite our driving on a rough, somewhat snow-covered, road. And this even if Jan intentionally whispered. Amazing!
It was suggested to us that we visit all sorts of environments as part of the test. Yesterday we 'did lunch' in a restaurant with quite a bit of ambient noise.
I had to remind Jan that she need not raise her voice. ("It sounds to me like you are shouting." ) She wasn't -- but was, through habit, speaking a bit louder than she otherwise would. Now that is no longer needed.
Nor is turning up the TV.
Oh, and music. Did I mention music? Wow. It now sound much as it used to -- before I got "old."
The 'units' do other things as well.
For one they can, if I wish, connect to my iPhone, MP3 player, the TV or our Alexa devices via Bluetooth. Thus providing me with wireless stereo hi-fi with access to my entire music collection. And that with a range of about 100 feet from the device.
They units are rechargeable. Three hours on the charger gives 24 hours of continuous use. Or twelve hours of regular use plus six more of Bluetooth listening. And the lithium ion batteries they contain can't over charge. Thus I can take them out/off at night, put them in their small storage/charging case, and in the morning they are all set to go for another day. No batteries to change. No fuss. No bother.
Equally wonderful is that they are comfortable. So small and light that I am barely aware of their presence. The micro-speakers almost float in the ear canal, with no feelings of pressure or sensation of clogging. Too they are virtually waterproof, dust proof, and require almost no care.
Anyhow, it is so nice -- so cool! -- to be able to really hear again.
No, they weren't cheap, but they are truly worth every penny.