Recently, I saw a patient who I will call John. After discussing what John was experiencing, it was clear that he did not feel like he had a problem. He said that his wife, who will we call Joan, and his children constantly mumbled, or talked too soft, or didn’t look at him when they talked. He seemed to have a reason for every situation in which he did not hear clearly. He honestly felt it was very unfair that he had been brought in to have his hearing tested, because his hearing was not the problem. He thought he could hear just fine; it was the growing number of people who did not speak appropriately who were the problem.
This situation, while more extreme than most, is not uncommon. Hearing loss is usually gradual. People don’t feel as though they are having hearing issues because it doesn’t sound like it’s their fault. To understand this, it helps to think of your ears like a piano. Just like a piano, we hear high-pitch sounds (high notes) and low-pitch sounds (low notes). Generally, when people lose their hearing, they tend to lose the ability to hear some types of sounds more so than others — most often the high notes. We refer to these situations as a Sound Voids. The result of these Sound Voids is that low-pitch sounds are often heard at a normal level while high-pitch sounds are not. This is important because, generally speaking, in English, vowel sounds tend to be a lower pitch and consonants tend to be high in pitch. Vowel sounds also tend to carry a lot more power than consonant sounds, creating the sensation of volume. Consonants, on the other hand, provide much of our clarity in speech, albeit at a much lower volume level. Therefore, when people are dealing with Sound Voids, they say things like “I can hear but I can’t understand,” or they accuse others of mumbling. So when we look at John’s situation from his point of view, it does sound like people are mumbling.
After explaining this to John, I took him into the test booth and did a diagnostic evaluation, or a hearing test, where I found that he was experiencing Sound Voids. Because of this, he was having trouble distinguishing what was said, even though people sounded to him like they were loud enough. I programmed a set of demo hearing aids and let him listen with them for the rest of the appointment. When Joan started speaking, John’s eyes got big. He looked at me and asked, “What did you do to make my wife speak more clearly?” He was amazed at the difference the demo set made not only with his wife’s voice but mine as well. We set John up for a fitting appointment that day.
After he had his new hearing aids for a little over two weeks, he came in more excited than I had ever seen him. He talked about all of the sounds he could hear again, like the birds and the creaky floorboards in his house (which he subsequently fixed). He told me his family and friends noticed the difference right away, and he was happier than he had been in a long time. For John, the world didn’t just stop mumbling; it came alive with sounds and noises that he had not even known he had been missing.
If you or a loved one are concerned that you may be experiencing Sound Voids, or would like to have a hearing test, please contact your local AudigyCertified professional today.
-Kevin Amdahl, M.S., Owner and President of Amdahl Hearing