Jim Feeley

article: HIGH-TECH HOPE FOR THE HARD OF HEARING

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[Interesting article from The New Yorker. Medium length by their standards; perhaps a 20 to 30-minute read. Because of the length, I'll include the whole five-paragraph anecdotal lede... an interesting article; I knew some of this stuff but not all of it. Check it out.  -Jim]

 

DEPT. OF AUDIOLOGY

APRIL 3, 2017 ISSUE

HIGH-TECH HOPE FOR THE HARD OF HEARING

Scientists searching for ways to restore hearing have been making a number of promising discoveries. 

By David Owen

When my mother’s mother was in her early twenties, a century ago, a suitor took her duck hunting in a rowboat on a lake near Austin, Texas, where she grew up. He steadied his shotgun by resting the barrel on her right shoulder—she was sitting in the bow—and when he fired he not only missed the duck but also permanently damaged her hearing, especially on that side. The loss became more severe as she got older, and by the time I was in college she was having serious trouble with telephones. (“I’m glad it’s not raining! ” I’d shout, for the third or fourth time, while my roommates snickered.) Her deafness probably contributed to one of her many eccentricities: ending phone conversations by suddenly hanging up.

I’m a grandparent myself now, and lots of people I know have hearing problems. A guy I played golf with last year came close to making a hole in one, then complained that no one in our foursome had complimented him on his shot—even though, a moment before, all three of us had complimented him on his shot. (We were walking behind him.) The man who cuts my wife’s hair began wearing two hearing aids recently, to compensate for damage that he attributes to years of exposure to professional-quality blow-dryers. My sister has hearing aids, too. She traces her problem to repeatedly listening at maximum volume to Anne’s Angry and Bitter Breakup Song Playlist, which she created while going through a divorce.

My ears ring all the time—a condition called tinnitus. I blame China, because the ringing started, a decade ago, while I was recovering from a monthlong cold that I’d contracted while breathing the filthy air in Beijing, and whose symptoms were made worse by changes in cabin pressure during the long flight home. Tinnitus is almost always accompanied by hearing loss. My internist ordered an MRI, to make sure I didn’t have a brain tumor, and held up a vibrating tuning fork and asked me to tell him when I could no longer hear it. After a while, he leaned forward to make sure the tuning fork was still humming, since he himself could no longer hear it. (We’re about the same age.) There’s no cure for tinnitus. The ringing in my ears is constant, high-pitched, and fairly loud—it reminds me of the cicadas I listened to on sweltering summer nights when I was a kid—but I’m usually able to ignore it, unless I’m lying awake in bed or, as I discovered recently, writing about tinnitus.

Unlike taste buds and olfactory receptors, which the body replenishes continuously, the most delicate elements of the human auditory system don’t regenerate. The National Center for Health Statistics has estimated that thirty-seven million American adults have lost some hearing, and, according to the National Academy of Sciences, hearing loss is, worldwide, the “fifth leading cause of years lived with disability.” Hearing problems can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline, both of which make getting older—itself a cause of hearing loss—seem worse than it does already.

In recent years, scientists searching for ways to restore hearing have made a number of promising discoveries. There are also increasingly effective methods of preventing damage in the first place, and of compensating for it once it’s occurred. The natural human tendency, though, is to do nothing and hope for the best, usually while pretending that nothing is wrong. (People who notice they’re having hearing problems typically wait more than ten years before doing anything about them.) I recently heard a joke about a man who was worried his wife was going deaf. He told his doctor, who suggested a simple test. When the man got home, he stood at the door of the kitchen, where his wife was at the stove, and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” She didn’t respond, so he moved closer and asked again. She still didn’t respond, so he stood directly behind her and asked one more time. She turned around and snapped, “For the third time, chicken!”

Rest of the article:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/high-tech-hope-for-the-hard-of-hearing

 

 

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