How to Hear Better in the Car


Hearing in the car is a challenging listening environment for people with hearing loss. The signal to noise ratios are less than optimal for maximum speech understanding. Moreover, conventional directional microphones are typically oriented for face to face communication which is not ideal when communicative partners are seated side by side or behind. Binaural directional microphones which can add an additional 3-4 dB of SNR improvement definitely require a face to face orientation in order to work properly. Finally, one cannot take advantage of lip-reading cues, especially if one is the driver. At night, the lack of adequate lighting negates the use of lip-reading cues for the passenger as well.

The noise levels generated inside an automobile can vary greatly by type of vehicle and the speed the vehicle is traveling. There are several websites available that list the interior noise levels of various automobiles. The data in the chart below, taken from http://www.auto-decibel-db.com/, is a sampling of several vehicles operating at various speeds.Noise Levels in Car

As you can see the noise levels can vary as much as 12 dB. Typically high end gas powered luxury sedans tend to have the lowest interior noise levels, while entry level automobiles and diesel cars tend to have higher noise levels. If we assume that speech is typically 65 dB in intensity, what then are the signal to noise ratios? In the table below, I have simply subtracted the measured noise levels from the 65 dB speech levels to obtain the SNR.

Noise levels in car 2 SNR

The next thing we need to consider is what SNR’s do people with various degrees of hearing loss need in order to communicate effectively. Below is the classic Killion data showing SNR’s as a function of hearing loss. Note that this is data for a typical adult. Children need higher SNR’s as do many geriatric clients. It is therefore ideal to actually assess a client’s speech in noise capabilities through a test such as the Listening in Spatial Noise Test – Sentences with the Prescribed Gain Amplifier, otherwise known as the LiSN-S PGA.

Noise levels in car 3 SNR Needed

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how to apply this information. The first example is a 40 year adult with a moderate sensorineural hearing loss. This gentleman owns a Honda Civic and frequently drives on highway of speeds 100-120 KM/hr. He is usually is driver rather than passenger Our chart indicates that the SNR at 100 km/h would be -1 dB and the SNR at 120 km/h would be -3 dB. The Killion data suggests that he will requires a SNR of at least 6 dB in order to understand speech. Which technology will work for him?

First there are conventional directional microphones that can only pick up speech from in front of the listener. This will of course not work in a car since a driver must face the road whilst driving and not the talker beside. Some hearing aids have the capacity to shift the directionality of the microphones to the side and in some cases stream the signal to the other side of the head that does not have an optimal microphone placement. The signal to noise ratio improvement that can be obtained from this arrangement is still the same as conventional directional microphone and is about 4-5 dB. This will be satisfactory for speeds up to 80 km/h, but not higher speeds.

What about a binaural directional microphone? Hearing aids with these features combine all of the microphones on each hearing aid to achieve an SNR of 8-9 dB. While this certainly fits the SNR criteria numerically, it will not work in this case as he is frequently the driver and must keep his head facing the road. Binaural directional microphones work in front only.

The final options are remote microphone technologies such as Bluetooth or FM (non-adaptive) or adaptive digital remote microphone such as the Roger microphones from Phonak. Since Bluetooth remote mics provide about a 10 dB improvement this will certainly meet the criteria.

But what happens if one needs a higher SNR or there is a need to hear multiple talkers? This is certainly the case with the next example. This is a 38 year old mother with two children. She frequently needs to drive her 2 children or her elderly parents to various appointments in her Ford Focus. She presents with a moderate-severe sensorineural hearing loss and the LiSN-S PGA results were in the red zone indicating that she needs SNR boosts of at least 15 dB. In this client’s case she could use a non-adaptive remote Bluetooth remote microphone for local 50 km/h city roads as this will improve the SNR from about 7 to 17 dB.   However, she will still experience difficulties hearing multiple talkers and at highway driving speeds. The only technology that can cover all of her driving listening needs would be an adaptive digital remote microphone.

Below is a picture of a set-up that I have commonly used for these situations. In it you see both communication partners using adaptive digital remote microphones that switch automatically between the talkers.  In this picture, we are using two Phonak Roger Pen transmitters.  These transmit both the talkers voices to receivers connected to hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Noise levels in car 4 Two Mics Pic

In summary, I would recommend that you and your hearing care professional look at the following critical pieces of information:

  1. What car do you drive ?
  2. Are you typically the driver or the passenger?
  3. Do you do a lot of highway driving?
  4. Do you need to hear multiple talkers?
  5. How do you perform on a Speech in Noise test.

Only when you have all the relevant information can you determine the best solution for listening in a car.

 

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I Didn’t Think That Had Anything To Do With Hearing…


images

The other day I was talking to a friend who heard another person claim that I was a snob.  Conversation went something like this:

“Hey Pete, how’s it going”

Good, thanks, and you?

“Fine.  Hey, I bumped into someone the other day that knows you.  Funny thing she said that you were stuck up.”

Really, me? Stuck up??  A snob??  Why did she say that?

“Well, you walked by her the other day.  She said “Hi!”, but you just kept on walking on by.  Didn’t say a word to her.  She was really insulted”

Ahhh.  Could it be I just didn’t hear her?

This got me thinking about some of the funny or unusual things people with hearing loss sometimes do.  Most people would not connect that these behaviors are in fact related to our hearing loss.  Below is a list of some of the weird things people with hearing loss do, why we do it, and how we can make it better.

  1. Ignore People.  This is the example above.  Likely what happened to me is that the environment was noisy and I didn’t hear my name in all the racket.  Alternatively, the person could have been on my left side, which is my non-implanted ear.  I don’t hear much on that side even in quiet.  Or my batteries might have been dead.  Or maybe I just wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet and turned everything off.
    1. What to do about it:  First off, anyone that knows me, knows I am a very social person who never snub anyone.  Don’t take offense.  Try to get my attention visually or by tapping me on the shoulder.
  2. Close Proximity:  I do not do this too often, but I have seen others with hearing loss do this.  Since we can’t hear well, especially in background noise, we sometimes invade one’s social space try to get closer to the sound source, in this case the talker.
    1. What to do about it.  First off, this behavior is most likely exhibited by people who do not get amplification to assist with the hearing loss.  Get proper hearing aids and assistive listening technology for noise and you won’t have to do this anymore.
  3. Forgetting Names.  Actually, I am not sure I am forgetting people’s names, but rather I never heard it correctly in the first place.  The reason we have such a hard time with names is that there is no linguistic context to assist us.  For example, if some said “Please pass the salt and _______”, we know that the most likely final word is pepper.  But if someone says, “Hello my name is ______”, it could be anything.  Other times, I may have misheard the name and called someone the wrong name.  Eg, Norma instead of Nadia.  Hearing, learning, and remembering names is brutal for people with hearing loss.  
    1. What to do about it.  Well use a wireless system that gets rid of noise.  So in a noisy social situation, you have a better chance of hearing the name correctly.  I also use a buddy system with my wife who has normal hearing.  She fills me in with the names after the introductions.  I also have a cue for my wife when introducing her to someone whose name I ought to know.  For example, if I do not now the name of a person I really ought to know, I turn to my wife and say “Have you two met yet”.  She then promptly extends her hand and says “Hello my name is Kim”.  Other person reciprocates.  Problem solved.
  4. Knock Over Drinks at Dinner Table.  How on earth could this be related to hearing loss you ask?  Simple. I am busy listening to someone across the table.  It is a noisy restaurant.  So now I have to rely more on lipreading cues for communication.  I am staring at the person’s lips, reach for my beverage without properly looking, and then knock it over.
    1. What to do about it.  Don’t reach for the beverage while trying to listen.  Use a wireless system to get rid of noise.
  5. Bump Into Things/Scratch Up My Watch.  This is very similar to the above scenario.  If I am walking down the street with someone I am looking at their face face to lipread.  Since I am not paying attention to what’s in front of me, I bash my watch into walls and posts.  Sometimes I crash into people.
    1. What to do about it.  Buy cheap watches.  Apologize profusely to people I bump into.  And again, use a wireless system to get rid of the noise.
  6. Speaking Too Loud.  This one is more obvious.  Folks with hearing loss routinely have trouble monitoring their vocal intensity.  And it gets worse when in noisier environments where it is harder to hear oneself or others.
    1. What to do about it.  This behavior is also more typical in people who do not have personal hearing aids yet.  Get some!
  7. Speaking Too Soft.  This is more common for me.  I do this for a number of reasons.  First, I am scared that I am speaking too loud and so I overcompensate.  Secondly, I do have a tendency to overestimate the hearing capabilities of normal hearing people.  I think you can hear a whisper from across a room.
    1. What to do about it.  I carefully watch the faces of people I am speaking with.  If it looks like they are straining to hear me, I speak up.  If their eyes widen and they push back from the table, I am likely speaking too loud.  Lastly, I inform close friends and family to let me know if I am too loud or too soft.
  8. Inconsistent Hearing Behaviors.  Sometimes I hear you, sometimes I don’t. What’s up with that?  Guy must be faking it.  Actually, no.  The inconsistencies are likely due to varying noise levels.  Sure in a face to face situation in a quiet room I hear pretty well. BUT THE WORLD IS  REALLY NOISY PLACE.  I would say that I find myself in a ideal listening environment at best about 10% of the time.  The other 90% of the time, the noise levels severely impact my ability to communicate.
    1. What to do about it: This is why I have been using my wireless FM system so diligently.  I cannot imagine how I could function without this technology.

So there you have it.  Some weird behaviors that are in fact related to hearing.  I am sure there are other examples.  So please share your stories, I would love to hear about them.

How Do You Know You Need a Wireless Microphone?


In my last blog posting, I spoke about the technologies available to help you hear better in noise.  These included:

  1. Directional Microphones
  2. Fixed Gain Wireless Systems.
  3. Dynamic Wireless Systems. ZoomLink+ Transmitter

But how do you know what technology you need?  This is a very important question that needs to be answered right away before you decide what kind of hearing devices you wish to purchase.  Let’s say you need Dynamic Wireless system in addition to hearing aids.  If you have sufficient financial resources at your disposal, you may wish to purchase a premium hearing and a wireless system.  This is the best of all worlds.  But if you have limited resources, you may wish to spend less money on your hearing aids in order to have enough money left over for a wireless system.

It is also important to know this in order to have realistic expectations about your hearing instruments.  If your hearing loss requires that you use a wireless microphone system in order to hear in a noisy environment, you can do countless hours of hearing aid fine tuning with your Hearing Care Professional and you are still not going to hear better in noise.  Its simple physics: a Dynamic Wireless microphone placed in close proximity to a speaker’s mouth will always outperform a microphone at the ear level.

Ideally you will have answered this question early in your hearing device selection process.  Here’s how this question can be answered:

  1. Experience with Existing Hearing Devices.  If you already have hearing aids or a CI equipped with directional microphones and you are still struggling to hear better in a noisy environment, you will have answered your question about the need for a wireless system.
  2. Experience with a Bluetooth Wireless Microphone.  As I mentioned in my previous blog posting, a Bluetooth Wireless Microphone will provide better performance than a directional microphone on your hearing devices.  But if you are still struggling with the Bluetooth mic, there are still significant improvements that can be obtained with a Dynamic Wireless System.  The microphones cut noise better, and the dynamic nature of the system will reduce the amount of noise your hearing aid or CI microphones will pick up.
  3. Experience with a Fixed Gain Wireless System.  Similar to the above, if you already have tried a fixed gain system (Eg Phonak Campus, SmartLink SX, ZoomLink or EasyLink; Oticon Amigo, Comfort Audio Digisystem) and are still having trouble, then a Dynamic System will provide additional benefits particularly at noise levels at around 70 dB or greater.  This is about the level of a restaurant.
  4. Audiogram Approach.  Most people with moderate-severe hearing loss or greater will require more than a directional microphone on the hearing instruments.
  5. Direct Assessment of Hearing in Noise Abilities.  There are several tests that your Hearing Care Professional can perform to help determine right away what kind of technology you need.  The one I am most familiar with is the LiSN-S PGA test and as such I will highlight this test in the remainder of this blog posting.

LiSN-S PGA stands for Listening in Spatialized Noise.  Performed under headphones, a virtual 3D space is created with target sentences coming from the front and distracting sentences are coming from the left and the right.  The PGA stands Prescribed Gain Amplifier.  The stimuli are amplified according your hearing test results.  So it simulates the way you would hear in a noisy environment if you had hearing aids and an omni-directional microphone.

LISN-S PGA

LiSN-S PGA accurately measures your ability to understand speech in noise as if you were wearing hearing instruments (amplification), and by your performance on LiSN-S PGA with normative data stored in the software, LiSN-S PGA predicts accurately the your performance in noisy situations compared to normal hearing listeners of the same age, and if the predicted performance is not good, LiSN-S PGA gives you clear, individual, technology recommendations how to improve speech understanding in noise. So based on your responses to the sentences, you get an evidence based recommendation.

The test takes about 5 minutes to perform.  You will hear noise first coming into both ears.  It will seem like the noise is coming from the sides.  Then you will hear a sentence that sounds like it is coming from in front of you.  Your task is simply to repeat back the sentence.  Your Hearing Care Professional simply needs to click on how many words you repeated correctly.  The computer will then automatically make the next sentence softer or louder depending on how well you did.  The test stops when the software has sufficient results to make a recommendation for you.

Condition 1

Here is what the recommendations screen looks like:

recommendation

Personally I find it interesting that difficulty hearing in noise is one of the most common complaints that a person reports when getting a hearing test, yet most hearing care professionals never assess this.  Far too often we wait for a patient to fail with the hearing devices before we explore additional noise reduction technologies.  This is unacceptable.  Why frustrate people with hearing loss unnecessarily?

I know many Hearing Care Professionals are thinking, “Yes Peter, but many patients won’t use additional microphones, so I don’t bother introducing this technology”.  This thinking is also unacceptable.  You are making a pre-determination and denying people hearing loss technology that is critical to helping them function in our noisy world.   Our duty, as Hearing care Professionals is to help people with hearing loss make an informed decision.  Yes, some may reject such technologies initially, but it is still their right to be informed.

For more information about the LiSN-S PGA, click here.

For more information about the development of the LiSN-S PGA test click this link here.

Best Ways to Hear Better in Noise


Noisy-restaurants

Hearing loss results in two main problems; loss of audibility and loss of clarity in noise.

Loss of Audibility. This means that sounds are too soft to hear.  We have a couple of strategies to make sounds more audible.

    1. Amplification. Today’s modern hearing aids selectively make softer sounds louder than louder sounds.
    2. Frequency Compression.  In some hearing aids such as the ones provided by my company, Phonak, the hearing aid can shift high pitched sounds down to lower pitches.  The logic is that you may have too much damage in the high pitches to amplify the sounds sufficiently, so we will shift these sounds to regions where you have better hearing.
    3. Cochlear Implants.  If high powered hearing aids equipped with frequency compression no longer helps you hear, we now turn to a Cochlear Implant to make sound audible.  See these links for more information of Cochlear Implants.  Also here.

Loss of Clarity in Noise.  I wish that hearing loss was merely a problem of loss of audibility.  It would be so much easier just to amplify the sounds and be done with it.  Just like wearing a pair of corrective lenses for vision, right?  Wrong.

After we do our best to make sound audible, we also have to do something about getting rid of the background noise.  As one’s hearing loss gets worse, not only do we need stronger and stronger hearing aids, but we also need to get rid of more and more noise.  For example, a person with normal hearing can handle a signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio of 0 and still understand most of what is being said.  An SNR of 0 means that the person talking to you is the same loudness as the person you don’t want to listen to.  This happens all the time.  Imagine a restaurant.  There are people all around you talking at the same loudness as your significant other across from you.  You normal hearing folks can handle this, people with hearing loss cannot.

Strategies to Hear Better in Noise.

  • Ear Level Directional Microphone Technology
  • Remote Bluetooth Microphones
  • Fixed Gain FM/Infra-Red/Digital Technology
  • Dynamic FM

These 4 strategies are not all the same.  They vary significantly in the amount of noise reduction provided.

Directional Microphones:

A directional microphone works by picking up the sound from one direction (typically the front) but not from anywhere else.  So now you won’t hear the annoying kid in the restaurant behind you as much.  Independent research has shown that a directional microphone on the hearing aid does help you hear better in noise compared to a regular omni directional microphone. The range of improvement found in these studies is anywhere from 3 to 8 dB.  So it gets rid of about 5 dB of noise.  This is not huge, but for people with milder losses of hearing, this may be all they need.  It certainly is convenient.  You don’t need to carry extra equipment.  In fact, in today’s modern hearing aids such as Phonak Bolero Q or Virto Q, these microphones get switched on automatically when it gets noisy.  Pretty awesome technology in there.

Remote Bluetooth Microphones.

Many companies, including the one I work for, now have affordable Bluetooth microphones that can be used with your hearing aids.  You clip this microphone onto the person you want to hear and it transmits wireless via Bluetooth radio waves to a device around your neck which in turn sends it to your hearing aids.  By moving a microphone from the ear level to a much closer proximity to the talker’s mouth, we can achieve much higher signal-to-noise ratios than a directional microphone located on your head.  Here is the example from Phonak which involves the use of the Remote Microphone in conjunction with either a ComPilot or an iCom.

Phonak Remote Mic

The advantage of Bluetooth microphones are that you get rid of more noise compared to ear level directional microphones.  They are convenient, and easy to use with simple and intuitive controls (just an on/off switch and volume).  Finally they have the advantage of low cost.  It is a very affordable solution, much less than FM.

Traditional and Fixed Gain Wireless Systems

To achieve an improvement in SNR up from a Bluetooth Microphone system would be to use a fixed gain wireless system. Examples of include:

  • Phonak’s 2nd Generation systems such as Campus, SmartLink SX, ZoomLink, EasyLink (silver casing)
  • Oticon Amigo
  • Comfort Audio Digisystem

These are all examples of fixed gain systems and achieve similar results.  The reason these perform a bit better than the Bluetooth microphones is that most incorporate directional microphones on the transmitters and therefore can get rid of more noise.  Additional benefits include greater operating ranges and longer battery life.  However, cost is significantly higher for what is really just a modest improvement over a lower cost Bluetooth microphone system.

Adaptive Wireless Systems

Some wireless systems are adaptive.  For example, the Dynamic FM technology that Phonak uses is different than fixed gain systems in that it adjusts the FM gain depending on the environmental noise level.  Therefore additional gain is added if the background noise level increases.  The technology works by measuring the ambient noise levels in the room during speech pauses.  If the ambient noise level rises to over 57 dB SPL, a command is sent from the transmitter to the Dynamic FM receivers to increase the FM gain.  When the FM gain increases, you get a higher signal to noise ratio.  It is still comfortable to listen to because today’s modern hearing aids all have compression which keeps this at a comfortable level.  Examples of Adaptive Wireless Systems include Phonak inspiro, SmartLink+, ZoomLink+, EasyLink+ and any 3rd generation Phonak receiver (eg MLxi, ML9i to ML16i)

ZoomLink+ with Dynamic FM

How Do These Technologies Compare?

1. Directional Microphones vs Fixed Gain FM.  This classic study by Valente et al in 2002 compares an omni mic to a directional mic on a hearing aid which in turn compares this to an FM system.  The data is backwards, so the lower the number, the better the result.  It is very powerful data showing how well an FM system can help over just an ear level directional microphone.

Valente et al 2002

2. Fixed Gain vs Adaptive Gain Wireless Systems.

The most extensive study comparing fixed gain vs adaptive gain wireless systems was conducted by  Dr. Linda Thibodeau, PhD, University of Texas at Dallas, USA, and the Callier Centre for Communication Disorders, Dallas.  AFMA refers to the Adaptive Gain FM while Fixed of course refers to fixed gain wireless less.  Remember that fixed gain wireless systems include Bluetooth microphones, Phonak’s second generation FM (Campus), Oticon Amigo, and Comfort Audio DigiSystem to name a few.  As you can see, when the room noise gets louder, the word recognition score for the adaptive gain wireless system is much higher.  In this example, the transmitter used was the Phonak inspiro with Dynamic FM.

Results of Dynamic FM over traditional

3. Adaptive FM vs Digital Wireless.

This study, conducted at the University of Orebro in Sweden, compared a digital wireless system with fixed gain (Comfort Audio Digisystem) to a adaptive gain FM system (Phonak Dynamic FM).  The question is what leads to better performance in noise.  The result s clearly showed that the adaptive gain system (Phonak Dynamic FM) leads to better performance.

Dynamic vs Digital

So which do you need?

I will make my next blog post on how to select the correct technology for your needs.  But here are the summary points.

  1. You need technology that helps you not only hear soft sounds, but also helps get rid of background noise.
  2. Directional microphones on the hearing aid itself can get rid of about 5 dB of noise.
  3. Bluetooth microphones provide additional improvement in noise.
  4. Fixed gain wireless systems such Phonak’s second generation FM, Oticon Amigo and Comfort Audio Digisystem provide additional improvements over a Bluetooth microphone, but these may be modest improvements.
  5. Adaptive gain wireless systems such as Phonak Dynamic FM still provides the largest amount of noise reduction.

On Being Normal…


As a person with hearing loss, I often ponder the question of what it means to be normal.  Does my cochlear implant give me normal hearing again?  Am I a normal person?  If not, am I less of a person because not everything about me is normal?

For any hearing aid or cochlear implant user, I think no one will ever have normal hearing again.   There is some form of damage in the auditory system that cannot be corrected.  For example, in cases of sensorineural hearing loss, the hair cells remain damaged even after we add the hearing devices.  Until hair cell regeneration therapies become clinically available, the ear is still not normal.

Some people have compared using hearing aids to using eyeglasses to restore vision.  While it is tempting to draw such an analogy, I do not think this comparison works.  For most people with glasses, there is nothing damaged or unhealthy about the eyes.  Typically, the lenses of the eye are simply not the correct shape but the eye is still healthy.  Moreover, eyeglasses do not convert the light energy from one form, digitize it, manipulate it and then attempt to reconvert it back into light energy again.  What hearing aids do is far more complex than eyeglasses.

What we can do when it comes to hearing loss is try to restore normal function. By this I mean we can use equipment and communication strategies to allow us to function better in the various communication situations we face.

In cases of milder hearing loss, we try to restore the normal function of the outer hair cells via sophisticated hearing aids that amplify softer sounds more than louder. We try to restore normal ability to hear in noise via directional microphone technology or additional wireless microphones. We try to restore normal audibility of high frequency speech sounds via techniques such as non-linear frequency compression.  When hearing aids no longer help, we try to restore normal audibility via a cochlear implant.

But at no point are we ever making hearing normal.  The ear is still not the same as someone with a fully intact auditory system.  The extent to which we can normalize function is contingent upon many factors such as the degree of hearing loss, the technology employed, the behaviors we use and sadly financial resources.

Clearly, the more severe a hearing loss is, the more challenging it will be to communicate even with the best equipment currently available.  Also, if one has a more severe loss and chooses not to utilize the proper type of amplification for the hearing loss including wireless microphones, then such a person will also not function as well in all situations.  This also relates to behaviors.  Learn to how to use the equipment in various situations.  Learn how to communicate effectively.  Teach others how to best communicate with you.

Ok, so my hearing is not normal.  Does that make me an abnormal person?  Maybe, but frankly who on this planet is completely normal.  If you are not the ideal weight, not the ideal height, take medications for some medical condition, you too would not be perfectly normal either.  But so what?

I do not worry or care about being perceived as normal because frankly very few people on this planet are normal.  But just because I am not “normal”, this does not make me less of a human being.  I still want all the things anyone else wants in life.  I do not want to be discriminated against nor denied things simply because of my hearing loss.

So lets not even worry or talk about being normal…it is an impossible quest.  Lets learn to embrace  and accept all of the things that make us different and make us who we are.

Elephant Shoes or I Love You…The Good and Bad of Lipreading.


Lipreading, or speechreading is the process in which we try to understand speech by observing the movements of the face, lips, and tongue of a talker.   Note that I say we “try” to understand speech.  It is not possible to fully understand speech from visual cues alone.  Here’s why:

All speech sounds can by classified by three parameters (see chart below):  Place, manner, and voicing.  Place of articulation refers to where the sound is made.  For example, the sounds /p/, /b/, and /m/ are all referred to as bilabials since they are produced using both lips.  The sounds /f/ and /v/ are referred to as labiodentals since the lower lip is placed between the teeth.  There are a whole bunch of sounds that are produced at the alveolar ridge, which is the little shelf jest behind your two front teeth.  With these sounds, the tongue is placed on this ridge.   The remaining sounds are produced further back in the mouth and are pretty much invisible to the eye.  These include sounds such as /sh/, /ch/, /g/,  /k/, and /h/.

Bilabial Labiodental Interdental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops Voiced /b/ bet /d/ dent /g/ goat
Voicedless /p/ pet /t/ tent /k/ coat
Fricatives Voiced /v/ vet /th/ these /z/ zed /zh/ garage
Voicedless /f/ fed /th/ think /s/ sent /sh/ sheep /h/ hot
Affricates Voiced /j/ jeep
Voicedless /ch/ cheap
Nasals Voiced /m/ met /n/ net /ng/ bang
Liquids Voiced /l/ let /r/ reap
Glides Voiced /w/ wet /y/ yell

The other two parameters are manner and voicing.  Manner refers to the type of sound produced.  For example, fricatives sound like air rushing or hissing.  Stops or plosives sound like a burst of sound.  It is very hard to see the manner of a consonant.

Voicing refers to the use of our vocal folds when we make a sound.  Try this little experiment.  Place your hand on your throat and make the /f/ sound and then the /v/ sound.  Don’t say these letters, make the sound.  You will feel your vocal folds vibrating for the /v/ sound, but not the /f/ sound.  This is of course invisible to the eye; we cannot see vocal folds vibrating.

Now lets look again at the sounds /p/, /b/, and /m/.  All three of these sounds will look pretty much the same via lipreading.  However they certainly sound different and more importantly, they change the meaning of the word.  If I say “pat”, “bat”, and “mat”, one cannot see the difference between these words.

So the reason that communicating exclusively via lipreading is difficult is due to two main reasons.  First, many sounds are produced at the back of the mouth and are completely invisible.  Examples include /h/, /g/, /k/, /ng/.  Second, many sounds look exactly the same because they are produced at the same place in the mouth.  The  consonants /p/, /b/, /m/ are a good example of that.

But lipreading can still be useful as a supplement to hearing.  Numerous research studies over the years have confirmed this.  Most studies show that while the scores of most people on lipreading tasks is typically quite low, it makes a great supplement to the auditory channel such that auditory-visual speech perception (lipreading + hearing) is much greater that auditory only.  In fact, I recall reading a study examining auditory only, visual only, and auditory visual speech perception in older adults.  Even though these adults scored 0% on visual only speech perception, their auditory-visual speech perception score was still greater than auditory only.

While I consider myself a pretty good lipreader, I have made some amusing errors over the years.  Here are some examples of embarrassing mistakes I have made. First sentence is what was actually said, and the second is what I thought was said.  It may also reveal the workings of my twisted mind.

What Was Actually Said:  My teacher is so cool, she plays the guitar.

What I Thought:  My teacher is so cool, she pees in a jar.

 

What Was Actually Said:  I am going to design you a tattoo.

What I Thought:  I am dying to touch you.

 

What Was Actually Said:  There is some nice grass over there for your dog.

What I Thought:  There is some nice ass over there…

So here is my advice when it comes to lipreading:

  1. Use it as a supplement to your hearing.
  2. Hearing is still the most important sense we have for communication via speech.
  3. If your are finding that you need to lipread a lot in quiet, you should consider getting assessed for a cochlear implant.  Lipreading all day long is highly inaccurate and very tiring.
  4. If you find yourself lipreading a lot when in noise, consider getting a wireless microphone system such as an FM system to help improve the signal to noise ratio.  Or get out of the noise.
  5. Training to improve lipreading skills is debatable.  Instead, focus on creating favorable conditions for llipreading.  Tune in next time to a discussion on how to enhance the conditions for successful lipreading.

Things to be Thankful for…


In Canada, this is our Thanksgiving Weekend.  While the originally designed to give thanks for the harvest, we generally use this holiday to share a meal with friends and family and reflect on all things for which we are grateful.  For me, the following represents things for which I am most thankful. There is no particular rank order here…

 

  1. Cochlear Implant Technology.  This technology has dramatically changed my life in enormous ways.  Simply put, without it I could not function.  Communication would be almost impossible.  I probably would have embraced sign language to a greater degree, but I would be limited to communicating to a much smaller and limited set of people.  I would have completely lost my ability to enjoy music.  Do I wish for improvements from this technology?  Sure.  Music perception and hearing in noise and are still challenges, but I have developed some additional compensatory techniques.  Still, a day does not pass in which I remind myself how my different my life would be without the CI.
  2. Wireless Microphone Technology.  While the the cochlear implant implant is amazing, it is the synergy of the FM system in conjunction with the CI that provides me even greater capabilities.  Adding FM technology allows me to use my mobile phone via Bluetooth, hear in noisy cars, restaurants, and bars, enjoy social events more fully, and enhances my ability to hear and perform music.  I wish more CI users would realize how much more they could get out of life if only they added FM or other wireless microphones.
  3. Music.  Music brings light to my soul.  It always has the ability to brighten my darkest days.  I am so grateful that I can still not only enjoy listening to music, but to perform it as well.  It has not been easy to keep music a part of my life.  I needed to experiment with vibrating platforms, compressors, equalizers, FM systems, and soundboards to make it happen.  Lots of money and time has been spent on this.  But it can be done.
  4. Family.  I have a wonderful, intelligent and beautiful wife that puts up with my shenanigans.  And I have a handsome, brilliant, and kind hearted son who is so full of passion.  I love you both.
  5. Health.  A weird thing happened the other day.  My son’s friend was looking at some pictures of both my son and I from his early childhood.  The friend remarked that I look younger today the I did 10 years ago.  That was such a compliment!  Losing 40 pounds of excess weight and getting into better shape has had the effect of turning back the sands of time.  Next week I will be completing a half marathon, something I never dreamed I would be capable of doing.  I am so grateful that I am finally on the road to better life.  It feels great.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Top Ten Reasons Why I Need a Hearing Ear Dog


As many of you are aware, my sweet dear Hearing Ear Dog Amie passed away on June 13 of this year.  Initially, I did not even want to think about getting another dog.  As a family, we all needed time to grieve the loss of such a special friend.

Are we over the loss of Amie yet?  Absolutely not.  But I think I can now start to think about  getting another Hearing Ear Dog.  This is of course not about replacing Amie.  That is impossible.  But our hearts are certainly big enough to make room for a new dog to become part of our family.

One interesting thing that has happened to me over the few months is other people have also enquired as to whether I will get another hearing ear dog.  Interestingly, the question is not always posed the same.  In fact, they can be classified into three categories.

First, are the “Genuinely Curious”.  These people are truly just asking out of interest.  They do not hold any biases or preconceptions.  They are not fully aware of the impact of hearing loss in general, nor do they fully understand my particular details.  To these people, I do not mind explaining both my situation, the nature of deafness, and the role of hearing ear dogs.

The second group I call the  “Erroneously Positive”.  These people may make comments like “I really do not see you as deafened” or “You seem to be doing just fine”.  Generally, I do not sense any animosity or ill will.  Instead, I believe these people are actually complimenting me.  They judge my degree of disability (or rather lack of disability) on my functional abilities in a one on one conversation, rather than the results of my audiogram.  Interestingly, this flies in the face of the so-called ‘hearing aid effect” in which people with larger hearing aids are judged less positively than those with smaller devices.   These studies were done with photos.  I believe that showing static photos bears no relationship to the real world of communication.  Here I am with a cochlear implant, bigger than the biggest BTE hearing aid from 25 years ago, a hearing aid in the other ear and an FM system in my hand and yet folks don’t think I have that much of a hearing loss at all.  Its quite remarkable really.

The third and last group are what I call the “Ignorantly Hostile”.  Sadly there are quite a few of these people.  They make judgmental comments laced with suspicion and almost hostility.  They make comments like “Yeah, but you don’t really need a hearing ear dog…you just want a pet”.  Some comments are just ignorant, not so much hostile but annoying nonetheless.  Example “Now that you have your cochlear implant, you don’t need Amie anymore, right?”  I am not alone…I have read similar stories from other CI users.  For example, a CI user named Denise wrote “So? If you have a cochlear implant now, why do you need a dog? Didn’t that (as she gestured towards my CI and bling) fix you?”

One thing that many CI users would like others to know is that the cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness.  We have artificial battery operated ears that does not sound like normal hearing (See What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like).  It has an electronic microphone that does not have the same sensitivity as the normal ear.  Hearing aid and cochlear implant microphones work best in a 3-5 foot range.  Moreover, the CI or hearing aid does not have the same capacity to filter out noise like the normal cochlea.  Lastly, we cannot wear these devices 24-7.  When we sleep at night we are even more deaf than we were before we got our implants!

To illustrate the limitations of microphones, try this experiment.  Stand about 20 feet (6 meters) from another person.  Have a recording device in your hand.  Most mobile phones have a voice recorder.  Now have the other person speak to you and record their voice.  Did you hear and understand ok?  I am sure you did fine.  Now play it back the recorded version.  Listen to how thin it sounds and how much background noise there is.  Now do it again, but add some additional background noise from say a stereo or TV.  Listen again to how much harder it is to understand the recorded version.

Welcome to the world of people with hearing aids or CI’s.  This little experiment only shows the limitations of electronic microphones.  It does not even address the lack of noise filtering of our impaired auditory systems.

In short, here is tonight’s Top Ten List entitled “Reasons Why I Still Need a Hearing Ear Dog”

1. When I sleep at night, I take my CI off and I hear absolutely nothing.  I need to wake up to get to work in the morning and a regular alarm clock will not work.  Vibrating alarms are not bad…but read on.

2. Similarly, most fires occur at night when people are asleep.  Studies show that visual fire alarms do not work effectively in waking people up (see this article on Waking effectiveness of visual alerting systems ).  A hearing ear dog will physically wake me up.

3. I travel extensively for my work and I cannot take a suitcase full of technical devices with me everywhere I go.  I am not sure how I can hook up these devices to the main fire alarm of a hotel anyway.

4. I have had hotel staff march into my room while I was in my birthday suit.  I did not hear them knock.

5. Hearing aid and CI microphones are not as sensitive as natural hearing.  So I am hit and miss with sounds.  The hearing ear dog will ensure consistency.

6. Many times the sounds I need to hear (doorbell, phone, microwave etc) are not at an adequate signal to noise ratio for a person with hearing loss.  It is buried under noise making it impossible for our damaged cochlea to detect.

7. If I know someone is coming to my house and I am alone, I must sit and wait on the main floor in order to hear them knock or ring the doorbell.  I can’t reliably hear these sounds from another floor of the house.

8. I sleep better at night knowing someone is there listening for me.

9. Traveling is actually easier with a working dog, at least to the countries I go to.  It reminds airline staff I cannot hear the announcements to board so they come get me ahead of time for pre-boarding.

10.  Hearing ear dogs help to filter out the assholes of the world.  If you don’t like dogs, I won’t like you.  So I get to find out a serious flaw in someone’s personality a lot faster.

For more information on Hearing Ear Dogs see the links below:

Lions Foundation of Canada

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society

The Cochlear Implant Experience of Another Deafened Audiologist


I have a friend and colleague, Dr. Nashlea Brogan, with is also an audiologist with a profound hearing loss.  She received a Cochlear Implant on July 23rd of this year and was activated recently on August 23th.  We have been emailing back and forth a bit about how things were progressing for her.  I asked her if I could post these exchanges in my blog.  I think you will enjoy reading about her experience.  

A few background notes:

1. Nashlea received the Med-El Cochlear Implant. 

2. Nashlea was born with normal hearing.  She believes her hearing started to decrease in her teens.  She was tested at age 14 and by 18 years received her first set of hearing aids.  Since that time her hearing continued to progressively deteriorate such that she lost most of her hearing in her twenties and early thirties.  

2. Med-El, Cochlear, and Advanced Bionics all use different numbers of electrodes in their CI’s. So when Nashlea talks about the 13 electrodes, thats the number that Med-El uses.  My CI is from Cochlear Corporation and has 24 electrodes.  Note also that the length of the electrode arrays differ between the manufacturers.  There is on-going debate as to what the optimal length and optimal number of electrodes should be which I am not going to discuss here, but I just wanted you the reader to be aware of this.

June 17, 2012

Hello Peter,

Well, I have my big day for cochlear implant surgery on July 23 and activation on August 23rd in London. I was expecting the surgery to be in the 2013 winter but they called last week with an opening for this summer, eek!!!!

If you have any advice or recommendations I would truly appreciate it.  I have to continue managing my Hearing Centre’s during this time and do not know what to expect or how to even possibly plan. How long is recovery? Did you work between surgery and activation? After you were activated when did you return to work? Many people reported that they were exhausted in the first few months from sound? Did you travel during the initial months? What was work like when you returned? Sorry for all the questions, I am trying to leave the month after surgery and 2-3 months after activation as open as possible, but I am a planner. Is there anything you would have done differently?

Hi Nashlea.

I am very excited for you!

1. Recovery: varies greatly from person to person. I had my surgery on a Thursday. Went home next day Friday. Was back at work Monday. Others get really dizzy and need a week or two off.

2. Yes I worked between surgery and activation. I only took one day off.

3. I was not exhausted from sound. But I was impatient. You need to really chill out and wait. It takes months to get full benefit.

4. Read my blog!!!!

Aug. 10, 2012

Hello Peter,

Thanks for the reply and I really enjoyed your Blog both from the cochlear implant perspective and as an Audiologist.

I had my surgery and all went well, they made a full insertion through the entire cochlea with all 13 electrodes of the Med-El. I wasn’t really myself until 10 days after surgery, I had a lot of ear pain 5-6 days post surgery.   I am also living with my FM system, I never truly grasped how difficult having monaural hearing was.  My FM system, has made car trips, dining, work and any public situation manageable. I don’t know what I would have done without it. So, next the step is activation on August 23! Now I need to learn patience.

Thanks again

August 29, 2012

Hello Peter,

Activation a dream come true.

I had my cochlear implant activated last Thursday.  Now, I had prepared myself for a difficult time, I was scared from talking to other people and not being able to wear my hearing aid for three months in my other ear. I had advised my receptionist that I wouldn’t be able to see patients until I could understand some speech, I was terrified.

Today, I feel like I won the lottery of life!!!!! The audiologist first tested all 13 electrodes from 250Hz to 6000Hz and I could hear all of them. Once I was activated both the Audiologist and my husband sounded like daffy duck or mermaids!!! That sound lasted only a few hours, we went to a restaurant after my appointment and I could hear the waitress, the music, the other people talking. It has since gotten better hour by hour.

My biggest and most rewarding moment of all this was my children. For the first time, I heard all my 3 year old girls little words!!! She hasn’t stopped talking to me since. I can hear my nieces and friends children talking. When they say mommy to me from behind or another room I hear them. Not hearing children was the hardest part of having a hearing loss for me. I was happy going to work, I did public talks all over Sarnia, I travelled, went out, the hearing loss was more of an inconvenience for these things. But with children I felt isolated and dependent on other people to help me understand what my 3 year old niece was asking me, even my own daughter! I was nervous going to my sons mothers day’s tea in SK because of me not hearing him singing, or if his friend might ask me something with the other mothers looking on.

No sounds have been too loud, all the environmental sounds are exactly as a I remember them. A little history on me, I was born with normal hearing, they think it started to decrease in my teens, at age 14 I was tested but not enough loss for amplification and by 18 years I received my first hearing aids (I had normal hearing to 1500Hz at that time), I have lost most of my hearing in my twenties and early thirties.

I just never imagined this…..its so wonderful and to think its getting better!!! The one thing that i have never heard or read about CI’s is how separate every sound is. I always felt with hearing aids that all the sounds were meshed together, for example I could hear lots of noises in a car, it was loud and made speech hard to understand but the sounds were all blended in one big ball of background noise. Now, I can hear all the indicators, the sounds the buttons make when you press them, the tires hitting the road or cracks, and the acceleration of the motor every time the gas is pressed, and speech is separate not competing with the car sounds.

I haven’t felt any background noise since the moment of activation, in restaurants, cars, and the mall. I hear all the sounds of people walking, talking, machines, music but I wouldn’t describe them as background noise like a hearing aid!

I could type forever. I feel so happy, so full of energy, I don’t even want to take the implant off at night. What an amazing and incredible device!!! What sounds should I go listen to today, ha ha!!

Well Nashlea, thanks so much for allowing me to share your experiences.  I want the readers to know that everyone’s CI experience is unique.  I had no post-surgical ear pain or dizziness, yet Nashlea did.  On the other hand, I needed months to achieve the benefits from my CI that Nashlea received in only a few hours.  Patience is the key.

Details about Nashlea’s Audiology practice:

Bluewater Hearing Centre
316 George St.
Sarnia, ON
N7T 4P4 Canada
Phone: 519.344.8887
Fax: 519.344.4873email:info@bluewaterhearing.ca

Amie, Bass Guitars, and Good Health.


I have not posted in a while.  I needed some time off.  Amie, my sweet friend and hearing ear dog passed away on June 13.  She was such a big part of our family; her passing hit us all pretty hard.  I wrote many tributes to her already in my blog, you can read them here and here.  Amie, we miss you terribly.

Two happier items to talk about.  My band played another event on Saturday July 21st.  We raised over $800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.  This time I really got the sound right.  I had all the settings tweaked really well so I could hear exactly what I needed.  Moreover, what pleased me most was my ability to keep playing the correct parts when our singer deviated from the song.  I was able to hear that we were not at the part of the song I expected and still played correctly.  In addition, my guitarist was able to glance over at me and mouth instructions.  It was such a massive confidence booster to know that we can screw up but still recover without anyone in the audience even knowing it.  For more information on how I play live music with my hearing loss click here.  Also, this link here talks about how I keep the beat.

Also, I continue to improve my health.  I started in March at about 260 lbs and I am now 221 lbs.  I continue to run, work out, and avoid eating most things that are white (Salt, sugar, starch-filled things, white bread, white pastas, creamy things etc).  I blogged about the weight loss here.

I will be back to regular blogging again soon.  Meanwhile, here is a picture of me on the far left in the black t-shirt with some friends at my Saturday event.  Next picture is with my wife enjoying the vineyards of Niagara region.

Cheers!

Hanging out with friends at the MS Fundraiser I did with my band Below the Belt. Thats me on the left in the black v-neck.

Enjoying time at a vineyard in Niagara Region with my lovely wife.