What’s it Like to be Deafened?

What’s it like to have a hearing loss?  What is it like to hear with a Cochlear Implant?

People often ask me this question, and it is not easy to answer.  So I thought I would take one of my photographs I took while hiking in the Rocky Mountains and play with them to try to illustrate with it is like.

Let’s look at the photo untouched.  This would represent normal hearing.  You see all the colours and the detail of the mountain.

Now the next picture would represent someone who would be considered “Hard of Hearing.”.  You can see the picture is blurry and unclear.  Similarly, someone with a mild to moderate loss of hearing would still hear things, but the words would not be clear.  Hearing aids with directional microphones, and the addition of an FM system can help restore the loss of this detail.

The next picture represents what it is like to be deafened.  Note that you can still barely detect something, but not much.  Similarly, someone who is deafened can barely hear anything.

This next picture is what it would have been like to hear with one of the early generation Cochlear Implants from 10-15 years ago.  We can see that it is a mountain again, but only a basic representation.  The colour and detail are not present.  Similarly, these early implants did help people to hear speech again and when combined with lipreading, was a very helpful device.

The next image represents to me what it is like to hear with my combination of a modern cochlear implant and hearing aid.  It is getting closer to the original image.  You can see that this is a mountain again.  However, it does not have the same detail as the original image.  It is a simplified representation.  Similarly, I can hear things that are said and can understand most speech in quiet.  But the sounds do not have the same richness and detail as when I had more hearing.

This is, of course, a very crude and oversimplified representation of what it is like. Nonetheless, sometimes simple explanations are also useful to help us understand.

I am extremely grateful that there is technology that can help me hear again. For a deafened adult who once had more hearing, a silent world would be devastating.  My use of a cochlear implant, hearing aid, and FM system have made a huge difference in my life.  Yes, it is not the same as normal hearing.  These devices are not cures.


13 thoughts on “What’s it Like to be Deafened?

  1. I love the visual analogy! I would like to reference this when explaining hearing loss to family members. Thanks for sharing

  2. I’ve done my best to describe this to others and my explanations are similar to this. Though I am still not far enough along in the CI journey to say what that last picture should look like. Right now I am the almost white picture( #3.)

    • Thanks for the comments Stephen. Again, I must stress patience. Getting used to a CI takes much longer than a hearing aid. You will continue to see benefits over an entire year, maybe even longer. But each day will get better.

  3. I found these images years ago doing some searches on the web. I am now writing a paper for a college class in which I take a scientific study and write it in a way people who are complete unfamiliar with my research can understand. May I use your images in this paper (you will most definitely be given credit)? It may or may not be submitted for publication. If so, I will again credit you.

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