Your ears pick up sound, but it is your brain that does the hearing. Your brain has a complex set of connections that takes in millions of bits of sound information every second and turns those bits of sound into something meaningful. The process is no less than miraculous! Just picture yourself sitting on your porch, talking quietly with a friend, when you suddenly notice a lovely birdsong, followed by the very annoying buzz of a mosquito.
It is likely the bird was singing sweetly and the mosquito was buzzing while you were listing to your friend, but your brain was focused on your friend while at the same time taking note of the bird and the mosquito. Then, for whatever reason, your brain changed focus. The change in focus and the constant registering of all of the sounds around you (and all of their meanings) is a powerful skill! It also takes a lot of energy!
When you have a hearing loss, maintaining focus on meaningful sounds is very hard, and the little distractions, such as TVs blaring or people chatting at the next table, make listening that much harder. Listening and ignoring is a complex series of tasks, and it takes practice and training to get it right. When we hear well, we have the tools that we need to practice and listen without it feeling like too much effort. When we have even a little hearing loss, we begin to lose the sounds that are necessary to keep our auditory muscles strong, and without that input, we stop practicing with those sounds and we begin to have to make more and more effort to hear.
When you have trouble long enough and when your hearing loss is disruptive enough, it is time to get hearing aids. But hearing aids are just the beginning! Now that you can hear all of the little sounds that have slowly faded away, your brain as forgotten what to do, so everything (and I mean everything!) is a distraction. Once upon a time, you could ignore that little bird and that buzzing, pesky little mosquito, and enjoy your conversation with your friend. Now that you can, once again, have a quiet chat with one of your favorite people, you discover that you can also hear the bird and mosquito, and cars on the road, and the washing machine, and the air conditioner, and on and on. What a disappointment!
Never fear, your brain might be tired and overwhelmed, but it is infinitely trainable. If you take the time and make the effort, you CAN hear better and better with a few simple tricks:
- Listen to audiobooks! Listening to audiobooks is pure exercise for your ears and trains you to listen for cues and to fill in the gaps.
- Take advantage of aural rehabilitation software such as the LACE or cLear. These hearing and listening exercises are proven beneficial.
- Keep listening. It might sound a little too simple, but if you keep sitting on that porch, or going to church, or grabbing a quick meal at your favorite restaurant, you will get better and better and better. The new sounds that your new hearing aids provide will begin to seem more and more normal.
With a well-fitted pair of hearing aids, a supportive audiologist, patient and understanding family and friends, and a little careful listening, and you will hear better and be happier with your renewed hearing life.