Deaf In The News | Sound Bites by KATHERINE BOUTON – NO one told me it was going to be this noisy

The following story is from The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, Op-Ed Contributor – Sound Bites – By KATHERINE BOUTON

“NO one told me it was going to be this noisy,” says a young woman who is going deaf in Nina Raines’s play “Tribes.” If you have a hearing aid, the world is, paradoxically, far noisier than it is for a person with normal hearing. The human ear is a miraculous thing. It can filter out the roar at Madison Square Garden while homing in on the voice of the person in the next seat. A hearing aid can’t do that. The only way to really filter out noise is simply to turn it off.

Americans are increasingly aware of the dangers of noise, the single largest cause of hearing loss, but we are less aware of the way it further handicaps those of us who already have hearing loss.

I began to lose my hearing in my early 30s, for reasons no one has been able to determine. My hearing loss is progressive, and in 2002 I finally gave in to the inevitable and got hearing aids. I bought new ones — at $3,000 apiece, with little or no insurance reimbursement — every two or three years as my hearing deteriorated. Three years ago, when a hearing aid no longer helped in my worse ear, I got a cochlear implant, the height of hearing technology. I hear well enough now that I’m unlikely to get run over by a car coming up behind me. But, like the hearing aid in my other ear, the implant is nowhere near as good as a human ear — either for hearing or for filtering out what I don’t want to hear.

In a noisy environment like a restaurant, a person with normal hearing will still be able to hear his companion. But in that same environment, a hearing-impaired person will hear chairs scraping, dishes clanking, waiters shouting, all of it bouncing off the high ceilings, the bare walls, the chic metallic tables and chairs — an anxiety-provoking wall of noise. Worst of all is the restaurant’s background music, sometimes competing with a different sound track throbbing in the kitchen.

Earlier this week I had dinner with my husband and sister (both with normal hearing) and my daughter, son and niece, all 20-somethings, in a popular Brooklyn restaurant. It was my birthday and I had a great time, enjoying my family and the good food, but I didn’t hear one word said at the table. My daughter occasionally texted me a shorthand version of the conversation.

When my hearing loss was more moderate, I’d simply take off my hearing aid if it got too loud, setting it on the edge of the plate or on the table. But that can lead to unfortunate results. The ex-husband of a friend once popped his into his mouth, thinking it was a piece of bread. The best solution is to eat with just one or two other people, both facing you, so that you can supplement the sounds you hear with what you see. That’s enough to keep a social conversation going. If I really must hear what the other person is saying, I schedule the meeting in an office or at home.

Even for those with normal hearing, dining and talking are becoming mutually exclusive. Noise is the second most common complaint about restaurants, according to Zagat, following poor service. The first thing that anyone asks me when I say I’m writing a book about hearing loss is whether I can recommend a quiet restaurant. Booths, tablecloths and carpeted floors are a good start. A corner table helps. Sit with your back to the wall.

Noise causes hearing loss, and hearing loss itself is bad for your health. There are 48 million hearing-impaired Americans, over 15 percent of the population. Those affected include teenagers (nearly 20 percent of whom experience some level of hearing loss), people ages 19 to 44 (the most common period for the onset of hearing loss), and the elderly. Hearing loss is itself associated with depression, dementia and even heart disease.

Some researchers speculate that what we think of as age-related hearing loss is merely the accumulated damage of a lifetime of noise. Studies in Sudan and Easter Island in the ’60s and ’80s, respectively, have found populations where age-related hearing loss seemed nonexistent or limited. Though there may be genetic explanations, there was a marked difference between the hearing of Easter Islanders who had lived only on the island and those who had spent some years on the industrialized mainland.

I’m the first to acknowledge that noise has its place. What would “Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk” have been without the percussive clatter of those tapping feet? Who wants to go to a sports event where the crowd is silent? The stomp of a tyrannosaurus in Sensurround, the excited din of a good party, the bustle of a popular restaurant, the audible energy of a city. Noise is an integral part of any of these. But it can still be noisy without being literally deafening.

We need to quiet things down a bit for everyone, but especially for those who are already deafened. Webster’s defines noise as sound “that lacks agreeable musical quality or is noticeably unpleasant.” That’s a subjective definition. What’s music to your ears is almost always noise to mine.

Katherine Bouton, a former editor at The New York Times, is the author of the forthcoming book “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.”

Direct link to this article HERE

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2 Responses to Deaf In The News | Sound Bites by KATHERINE BOUTON – NO one told me it was going to be this noisy

  1. maryalive says:

    A wonderful discussion of the human ear and of noise through the use of personal experience. Thanks for sharing.


  2. terpstube says:

    Thanks for the comment. I thought it was interesting. I wish more people understood it. 🙂


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