I noticed, a couple of years ago, that I couldn’t understand some of the words people said to me on the phone, when I’d be interviewing them for an article, or on a sales call.
The volume of their voices was perfectly fine. and I’d got the gist of the conversations, but often a number of key words sounded jumbled. I’d brush it off, attributing it to the cell phone connection or the fact that they were talking too fast or mumbling. But even when I played the tape back, I couldn’t make out the same words, no matter how many times I replayed the sentence.
A Short, But Crucial,
Lesson In Hearing
Maybe I need hearing aids, I thought, and away I went to get a bona fide hearing test from an audiologist. (When I think something is amiss, I like to attend to it pronto!) She explained the results to me, saying that women my age (I was around 64) often have trouble hearing high-frequency sounds (a.k.a. high-pitched sounds), especially in noisy environments.
Frequency is measured in something called hertz (Hz). Your hearing is considered “normal” if you can hear sounds with frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz. The most important everyday sounds are in the 250 to 6,000 Hz range, the audiologist said.
Our speech includes a mix of low and
- Vowel sounds, like a short “o” in the word “hot,” have low frequencies (250 to 1,000 Hz), and are usually easier to hear.
- Consonants such as s, f, sh, and t are spoken more softly and quietly, have higher frequencies (1,500 to 6,000 Hz), and are harder to hear. However, consonants convey most of the meaning of what we say. They’re where the most important speech sounds occur. Someone who cannot hear high-pitched sounds will have a hard time understanding speech and language. So while you can actually “hear” what someone is saying, you can no longer understand it properly or fully. You may hear table instead of fable, for instance, heating instead of seating, and confine instead of consign.
I had “sensorineural hearing loss,” the audiologist continued. It’s age-related (what isn’t!), occurring when the inner ear and/or hearing nerve are damaged and can’t transmit signals to the brain. Prolonged exposure to loud noises, or reduced blood circulation, can also cause this kind of hearing loss. I’ve lived in New York my whole life. It’s a loud place 24/7.
Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include:
- The ability to hear individuals speaking, but not clearly, even when the volume is more than adequate
- Distortion of music or the radio
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
- Asking people to repeat themselves
- Perception of people mumbling or not speaking clearly
- Lack of clarity when listening to speech and difficulty hearing in noisy environments
Yep, that’s what I had. I am far from alone: About 10 million adults in the United States experience enough hearing loss that even face-to-face conversation is problematic, if not impossible. And almost 10 times as many experience difficulty in more challenging situations, such as in noisy restaurants, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
As a matter of fact, difficulties with listening and understanding can have a profound impact on a person’s emotional, physical, and social well-being.
Even if you swear you have tip-top hearing, take this little survey
(And make sure your significant other takes it, too!)
Scroll down to the very end of the article when
you’re ready to check your answers!
If you didn’t hear the words that were actually spoken, it doesn’t mean you need hearing aids, but you may be experiencing changes to your listening and communication abilities that are worth checking out. You can easily improve your hearing today, without the need for super expensive hearing aids.
A cool little device called the Soundhawk Smart Listening System, for example, will enhance key sound frequencies and clarify what you hear, while reducing unwanted background noises at the same time. Although your hearing might be in the normal range when you listen to very soft beeps during an audiologist’s hearing test, you’re dealing with more complex sounds than beeps when you’re trying to understand speech. Soundhawk would enhance your ability to understand phone conversations, table talk in noisy restaurants, movie dialogue, and more.
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