Not Your Grandma’s Hearing Test

the day is fast rushing toward me now where I must get my current hearing aids replaced, given preparations for my new employment that might demand the ability to function in a team setting, or on the phone. These aids have served me well for seven years, but there is no question that the technology therein is beginning its inexorable decline, and the technology without has just gotten much better. I want to try and take advantage of these improvements, especially as they relate to background noise.

To that end, I scheduled what my audiologists call a “functional communication assessment,” at the core of which is another, shall we say slightly stressful, hearing test. You can check out my post on the previous most recent hearing test experience from November of 2016, for a bit of comparison, because this iteration was different from any I’ve had before. I suppose it will also be more useful in the end.

Ah, well some things were the same. There’s entry into the soundproof booth, wherein my heart rate increased and stomach dropped, and I immediately muted my cell for fear that some random, badly timed notification might throw me off. Then the audiologist’s assistant, a grad student whom I had met a few weeks ago when last I was there, placed the inserts into my ears in lieu of the aids, adjusted the volume until I could hear her voice, and the fun began.

Playground. Baseball. Airplane. Oatmeal. That familiar list of words was read off, first by her and then by a recording, I suppose the latter having been done to standardize the process a bit. I’ve always thought that some of the variance in how well I hear has to do with a person’s particular voice. The recording they used almost sounded synthetic though, and there were a couple of times where, though I felt I could hear? it, I was not able to process it. I know there is an element of processing difficulty present in my sound interpretation challenges as well.

Then the second part, also relatively familiar, where you have to hear and distinguish when the little beeps occur. First she just played these through the inserts, but then she placed a bigger headset on my head. The thing is, and I think I mentioned this last time, that set vibrates if a particularly loud, low-frequency beep is played. I was to say “yes” whenever I “heard” it, and sometimes I responded just because I had felt the vibration, a small smile of relief tickling my lips. But she was not so easily convinced!

On that last, did you hear that, or just feel it?” I confessed, because if you ask I will tell you. This did provide me with a bit of amusement when I could use it, though.

I was slightly less amused when the third and final portion of testing began. This was the new part. I was to repeat a sentence that had been read aloud to me, or at least as many words as I could recall. With each sentence, the background noise, which sounded like a bunch of people talking at the same time but not quite in the same way that one might hear in a restaurant, was turned up a notch. I spoke the first couple of sentences ok, but by the time we got to the full background noise I pretty much just sat there. I know that this is the biggest challenge I face in my hearing loss journey, and really always has been. I like to believe that I am making strides in this area though, because it is mandatory in order to fully fit in with my new set of marital relatives. One of their hallmarks is eating out in restaurants, and so I adapt as best I can.

And after some fine-tuning, in which she had me rank the comfort level of beeps she played in each ear from 1 to 7 to establish parameters for my future aids, we discussed possible options. First, she said my results were relatively stable in comparison to November of 2016. It is a good thing to hear that the loss is not currently progressing in significant fashion. This, I believe, means that I can indeed put off the cochlear implants for a little longer. My two main aid choices are to go with ones that work especially well with the iPhone, having some bluetooth capacity; or to get a pair that should do a better job handling background noise. The former are made by a company called ReSound, while the latter are Phonak, my current brand. If I stick with my current brand, not only do I get those potential improvements, but the quality of sound should also be mostly the same. This would mean less adjustment when I put the new ones in for the first time. While I did kind of want to get my hands on the bluetooth model, I am fairly tempted to just get the new Phonak and handle phone calls and streaming audio from my iPhone as I always have.

I won’t be handling anything for a while though, as those things are expensive and not covered at all by my insurance. This means I will attempt to reinitiate my case with the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, and hope that they will be willing to help me with this important acquisition. The mid-level are around $4,000, while top of the line come in at about $5,500. The latter would be most preferred, but I think I could function with the mid-range ones if necessary. She said the lowest end would kind of work, but I would see little in the way of noise reduction with them.

So that’s what I’m up against. I will get the wheels churning immediately and see what can be drawn up. But as always, I appreciate the fine audiologists I have at the UNC Hearing and Communication Center, and feel that I benefit from being under this university’s umbrella. Next entry? Probably from Boston as we get ready to head to the Fourth International Norrie Conference on August 9! Look for those posts soon. Till then.

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