3. Why Does My Wife Have So Much Trouble Hearing In Noise?
Dr. Abonso: Is she
tired of going to your parties?
I didn't request psychological counseling, I asked a question about hearing.
Do you have any information that might help?
Dr. Abonso: I can take a guess. She probably has a hearing loss.
Suspicious Consumer: Why would that cause her trouble hearing in noise? Wouldn't the hearing loss filter out
some of the noise, so it would be easier to hear in noise?
Dr. Abonso: Good
questions. I'll see if I can answer them, but I need to explain how people with
normal hearing hear in noise.
Suspicious Consumer: OK, I'll listen.
Dr. Abonso: First,
people only need to hear a surprisingly small portion of the speech sounds to
understand speech; something like 25% is sufficient for conversational purposes.
Second, noise is highly variable; sometimes it covers up low-frequency speech
sounds, sometimes mid-frequency, sometimes high-frequency sounds. A normal-hearing
person hears whatever speech sounds aren't covered up at the moment and -- as
long as there is at least 25% left -- puts the pieces together to make intelligible
Suspicious Consumer: So, hearing
in noise requires a brain?
Dr. Abonso: Aha!
You've got it! Yes, the brain that is fed sufficient information can separate
speech from noise. It gives us what seems like automatic noise suppression with
little conscious effort.
Suspicious Consumer: I'm not sure
about the "little effort." But what does all this have to do with my wife''
presumed hearing loss?
Dr. Abonso: At a
party, whenever the noise covers up the low-frequency or mid-frequency speech
sounds, you and I could get by on the remaining high-frequency sounds.
Your wife can't hear them, so she has nothing to go on. Her brain just doesn't receive enough
information to put the sentences together, regardless of how bright she is or
how hard she tries.
Suspicious Consumer: Can't she
buy a hearing aid with a useful noise suppressor option?
Dr. Abonso: No (although
one company's ads might suggest she could.) Suppressing noise also suppresses
speech information that your wife needs. But let's talk about what your wife
really needs to do.
Suspicious Consumer: Stop going
Dr. Abonso: Not
unless she drinks too much. A better solution is for you to see
an experienced hearing professional to find out if your wife really does have a hearing loss.
Suspicious Consumer: Why do that
when you've told me she can't get a useful noise-suppressor hearing aid?
Dr. Abonso: Ah,
but she can get hearing aids that will restore the information to her
brain so she can function at parties. High-fidelity hearing aids became available
in 1990. Older hearing aids didn't work nearly as well.
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