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What is it Like to Have a Hearing Loss?

As an audiologist, I see hearing impaired individuals every day. One of the most rewarding activities of my job is to teach the family members what it is like to have a hearing loss and how to better communicate with hearing impaired people.


What can the hearing impaired person hear?

I think that understanding what a person really can and can’t hear is the key to successfully living with or working with a hearing impaired person. It is crucial to understand what can change the clarity of your voice for a person attempting to comprehend what you are saying.

For the sake of argument, let’s select the most common hearing loss to use in our discussion. That would be a high frequency hearing loss. Now, we will put lovely hearing aids on them that have been programmed by your favorite audiologist! That individual is now being given sound to augment what they hear without amplification. Can they hear the same as you? I am sorry to say they do not. They are able to hear more sounds that are used for speech and they also hear room noise that is sharing the same pitches as speech. They can hear water running, cinders crunching under their feet, paper rustling and other high pitch sounds. They hear your voice much easier (note the word easier) but not perfectly. They can now hear the competitive speech sounds in the same room. The damage in the hearing organ is still there. In essence, even as a person wears hearing aids they are still hearing impaired. Their hearing is aided.


Filtered speech that you can hear online

There are some amazing websites that play a variety of sound samples for the normal hearing person to hear speech through a damaged hearing organ. One website is called The Hearing Loss Sampler by Scott Bradley Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The web address is: facstaff.uww.edu/bradleys/radio/hlsimulation/. This website demonstrates a variety of hearing losses by using a filter to modify the sound to match the audiogram shown.

It is a remarkable learning experience to listen to the samples and step into the shoes of an individual who lives in a world with this type of hearing. After listening to the samples, imagine going to church service or a meeting with the “sample ears.” How loud would you need to turn the TV? Now imagine sitting in your favorite chair reading a book and suddenly hearing the demonstration sentence start up. Would you be able to understand it? If you turn the “sample ears” louder, does it eliminate all the difficulty or do you still need to concentrate on what is being said? Do you think that you could relax and listen as people were talking in a group setting?

You will notice at this website that speech in noise is separate from the speech in quiet. Listen to the difference. Notice how noise is a significant distraction to the desired sentence you are concentrating on.

Another website called The Real Sounds of Hearing provides sentences with filtered sound giving you a unique insight into the life of a hearing-impaired person. Go to: npr.org/blogs/health/2013/04/06/175945670/the-real-sounds-of-hearing-loss. This website is provided by Audrey Carlsen. She demonstrates to the listener how it is to hear with the high frequencies missing or damaged. In another sample, she demonstrates what it sounds like with a flat hearing loss. A flat hearing loss causes you to miss all the soft sounds of speech.


Another source of information about hearing is at YouTube. Go to YouTube and type in the words “simulated hearing loss.” You will find many samples of what hearing loss sounds like and how the hearing system works.

I hope those of you who do not own a computer will go use a family member or friend’s computer to listen to these samples. You could go to your audiologists office and ask to hear the samples. Another suggestion is to go the public library. The librarian will be happy to help you find the web sites and help you use the computer.

If you live with or work with people who are experiencing hearing loss, you will find this knowledge profound. Please take a few minutes to put yourself in their shoes. My experience is that the normal hearing family members are moved to tears as they finally understand what their loved one is experiencing. FBN

By Karon Lynn, Au.D.

Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Karon Lynn is a doctor of audiology with 30 years of experience working with hearing impaired individuals. Dr. Lynn may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at audio@trinityhearing.net.





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