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Hearing and the World Around Us
Why the World Gets Smaller When You Can’t Hear
Apply the same thinking to any hobby or pursuit that involves hearing and you’ll experience a similarly limiting effect. People who suffer from hearing loss play fewer sports, travel to fewer places, and participate in fewer activities. And of course, there’s music. “The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain,” Oliver Sacks writes in his book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.” “Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.” The fact that so many people miss out on these depths of beauty, especially when we possess the power to prevent that absence, is nothing short of a shame. A world without music isn’t even the most unfathomable part of hearing loss. No, that honor goes to interpersonal communication. If a patient has to use the subtitles to understand a show in the language they speak or if they can no longer
people sitting around an apartment and chatting isn’t much action to go on. Background music and laugh tracks only compound the trouble in understanding. As a person’s hearing worsens, watching these types of shows becomes progressively more difficult until eventually they stop watching them altogether. News, on the other hand, usually features one person talking (or even better for the viewer, yelling) at a time. Surrounding them on the screen is a wealth of information providing context. Reality TV may include arguments where even those with healthy hearing can’t parse what the on-screen personalities are saying, but it also has interstitial interviews where those characters explicate exactly what’s going on. Programs like “Antiques Roadshow” and “American Pickers” aren’t just associated with an older demographic because they are nostalgic, but also because they visually present the basic relevant information on screen. You might not be able to glean everything an appraiser says about an item, but you can see its name and value right before your eyes. I bring up this example not because watching TV is one of life’s great joys — though the success of various streaming services demonstrates it probably is for many — but because it shows the subtle ways in which hearing loss begins to sap us of our quality of life.
How do people become socially isolated as a result of hearing loss? One conversation at a time. A patient doesn’t wake up one day and suddenly feel like everyone around them is speaking gibberish. The process is gradual, one that is subtle at first but eventually all-consuming. The symptoms of hearing loss manifest in a variety of places, from the more obvious examples to areas where you’d least expect them. If you’re not trained to detect them, they’re easy to miss entirely. Hearing loss is a negative symptom, which makes detection challenging. Most people are aware of positive symptoms, meaning the patient experiences a new sensation. Chest pain, shortness of breath, joint stiffness, and tinnitus are all examples of positive symptoms — in each instance, the patient experiences a new and unfamiliar ailment. Because a person with hearing loss does not know they did not hear something, however, they are often unaware of their symptoms. which types of TV shows they enjoy watching and you’re likely to hear news, sports, and reality television far more frequently than sitcoms or dramas. Because the latter genres rely far more on fast-paced dialogue and speech to convey their meaning, they leave little to aid a viewer who’s hard of hearing. Think about how many context clues tell you what’s going on in a scene of “Seinfeld.” Four Ask somebody who suffers from the early stages of hearing loss
enjoy music the way they once did, imagine the difficulty and frustration they’ll experience out in the world.
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