The Sound of Hope
April 30, 2013
Shelly and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party and, thanks to my friend, Shelly reads this blog. At the party, she told me she wanted to try to help Alice. I explained that we’d been told by three hearing specialists in Portland that nothing can be done for Alice’s hearing. No hearing aids will improve it. The hair cells that transfer sound are shot.
(See Dangerous Decibels for more information about how this works.)
But Shelly, who knows all about ears and their hair cells, was optimistic. Also, she is from Wisconsin, which landed her right at the top of the Plus Column in Alice’s book. We decided to let this lovely, hopeful stranger at least try to improve Alice’s world.
When we arrived at last in the fourth waiting room of the day to pick up the new hearing aids, this smart and cheery person kept us company until the doctor could see us.
After a thorough exam a couple of weeks ago, Shelly had determined that Alice’s old hearing aids were doing pretty much nothing. They fit inside her ear and look like this:
Alice recalls paying around $6000 for them over a decade ago.
Those approaching retirement, listen up to a brief but informative rant:Medicare does not pay for hearing aids, so any elder with hearing loss is on his or her own in terms of cost. The same is true for eyeglasses and contacts. Dental health, including periodontal cleanings, dentures, tooth implants, etc., are also not covered by Medicare. The three things that go south for nearly everyone as we age – ears, eyes, and teeth – are left to us to pay for.
Shelly had ordered a new set of hearing aids, the Phonak Bolero for Alice. They came to her office at SoundSource about ten days later and so there we were, ready for the big transition. The new ones look like this: Each set attaches to a custom-made mold that fits inside the ear. They cost $2400, and they come in lots of different colors.
Alice chose silvery white.
They’re pretty, though perhaps not as pretty as this little hearing flower from 1802:
Or as elegant as the hearing trumpet with attached opera glasses:
Or the fan with a hearing helper attached.
But in the tradition of disguised hearing devices, the Boleros do sort of hide in that they fit over the top of the ear.
Along with the Boleros came the translucent mold Shelly had made in exactly the shape of Alice’s ear. This allows the rest of the device to go into the canal. It’s all quite different from the kind Alice is used to. This called for a demo.
In the photograph above, Alice is at the far right edge of the desk (where you saw her in the other pictures). Her ability to hear from this distance (without any shouting) is a notable change.
Shelly sent us off for a two-week trial. After we left, we treated ourselves to the fries Alice loves at Little Burger. They’re made with truffle oil. Oh man, was she happy. The next day, however, she got quite sick and so the news about the hearing situation has been slow in trickling in.
What we know so far: She still has trouble distinguishing many individual words, but she’s much better at teasing out the meaning of a sentence. Paragraphs of speech are still beyond her.Therefore, my side of any conversation we have is still quite limited.
But: She can hear my one-or-two-sentences-at-a-time much better now when we’re alone together in a quiet room. And, according to Nadine, she can hear her a much greater percentage of the time in the dining room. (The ambient noise in the dining room is still a problem, but there may be adjustments for that.)
Also, she could hear me in the car yesterday without any shouting on my part, as long as I turned slightly to face her each time I spoke. She still needs to read lips. She cannot hear the radio or the television set. (“They’re just squeaking sounds,” she says.) When we went to her eye appointment yesterday, she told me that our voices in the exam room were “vibrating,” which requires another adjustment Shelly assures me can be made.
So it looks like Alice might be on the road to a more comfortable life, thanks to her new friend, Dr. Boelter. If the Boleros turn out not to work as well as we hoped, Shelly says she has other tricks up her sleeve. With a few tweaks, though, maybe the Boleros will bring enormous improvement to her life after all. ¡Olé!
Finally, there’s an update on her sight after her return to the eye doctor yesterday for an injection: She could read every word of a note one of the aides left her. Before the eye appointment, several words in this same note were missing when Alice tried to read it. Her ability to now read the whole thing shows the injection has made a difference.
She hasn’t been able to read a book in two weeks. She’s been unable to read the closed captions on television, so she hasn’t had that source of entertainment either. She’s been sitting quietly alone with nothing to do but wait and hope that things will look brighter. So far they do.
Visit the Hearing Aid Museum.
And here you can look at various disguises for hearing aids of the past. It’s interesting, but also rather sad to think of the lengths people would go to hide their hearing loss, as in the examples above.
Want to take a little hearing test?