Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Same Myths... Over and Over

I'm subscribed to a couple of news feeds in my twitter, one of which returns hearing-loss related news (thanks to Google News). Sometimes it feels like I see the same article over and over again. Case in point: the Creston News Advertiser's article on the top 5 myths about hearing aids. Before you click on the link, see if you can come up with your own top 5 myths about hearing aids. They're for old people! They are clunky! They're only for people who have a really bad hearing loss, and besides, they cost so much.

I'm not saying that articles like this are not valuable. The reason these myths need to be addressed is because they are so prevalent. The myths in the article are the same ones I hear all the time, especially "I would know if I need a hearing aid." Even with people like Sting joining campaigns against hearing loss, making the topic accessible to everyone, these myths still prevail. Seeing similar articles every day in my Google Reader only serves to remind me of the misconceptions many people have about their loss. Hopefully, enough people will stop to read the article (the one I linked to and the myriad others on the same topic), and maybe some people will be educated. It is a long road.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hearing Sparks on Twitter

Okay, I'll confess I haven't really seen the appeal of Twitter all that much, but I thought it would be a good idea to start one up - so I can follow interesting people, participate in contests like the Bioware Bazaar, etc. I took the name hearingsparks because I do plan to tweet interesting hearing-loss related items, but it will be a more general Twitter than just that.

Follow me @hearingsparks, and thanks!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Joey McIntyre Talks About His Son's Hearing Loss

Joey McIntyre is the youngest member of New Kids on the Block. (Just hearing that name brought back a ton of memories from elementary school. So many kids had crushes on somebody from that group!) He has two children, Griffin and Rhys, who was born just three months ago.

In this People interview, Joey talks about how Rhys failed a hearing test at the hospital and has been diagnosed with severe hearing loss. He got hearing aids at one month old and they are waiting to see if he would benefit from cochlear implants. It's a wonderful article, really capturing the spirit and love of Rhys's family. Reading about Joey and his wife Barrett's reaction to the news reminded me a lot of what my parents always told me they thought of my hearing loss. And this quote from Barrett really made me smile:

"Rhys' hearing loss won’t stop him from doing anything. That's not to say his first day of school or when he goes to high school, I won't be sick; it's hard enough to go to school with curly hair and a zit. But he'll be so cool that hopefully he won't have a problem with it."

(via Live. Love. Hear.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Top 10 Weirdest Hearing Aids Ever

The course of hearing aid history is a fascinating one, with the true technological advances in the field beginning around the Industrial Age. How Stuff Works has a good article on the history of hearing aids - which is filled with some strange and fascinating oddities along the way. This is a list of the top 10 weirdest hearing aids I found while taking a look through their past.

10. Acoustic fans
Acoustic fans were made of metal and were popular among fashionable women in the 1800s. Used to disguise a person's hearing loss, they were usually held behind the ear to help direct sound into the ears. Or, in the bizarre case of bone conduction fans, they would use the bones of the teeth and skull to direct sound:

You have to wonder who she thinks she was fooling.
9. Chairs
It's good to be the king.
Acoustic chairs were the hearing device of choice for those royalty in the 18th and 19th centuries who didn't want anyone to know about their loss - or didn't care but just wanted to look cool while they lounged. The chair King John VI had (see right) was especially cool - it forced his subjects to kneel before the chair and speak into the animal heads at its arms, which amplified the sound for the king. How intimidating would that be?

8. Massaging devices
Massaging devices purported to restore a person's hearing by "massaging" their ears. One of them was the Oticon Ear Treatment Device, which massaged the ear drum, trying to stimulate blood flow and the cochlea. Somehow, I doubt it was of much use to the people who bought it. By the way, does the name Oticon sound familiar? The president of the company that manufactured this quack device was instrumental in setting up Oticon A/S, which today is a top hearing aid manufacturer. (They made my aids!)

7. Eyeglasses
Eyeglass hearing aids are actually making a comeback! Well, a small one. While doing research for this post I came across Spectacle Hearing Systems, a UK company manufacturing hearing aids built into glasses. I can't speak for the quality of these hearing aids, but eyeglass aids have been around since the 1950s. Check out some of the styling specs here.

6. Wrist-ear
Now this is the kind of hearing device that James Bond ought to have worn if he were deaf. This was a device from the '50s that was worn on the wrist, like a watch. Only problem is, judging from the advertising photos, it didn't function as both a watch and a hearing aid. That probably made it embarrassing when somebody asked you for the time.

5. Water canteen
Now we're getting into ridiculous territory. Here we have a hearing aid disguised as a water canteen. I guess if you're camping, you don't want the local wildlife to know about your loss. When else could you wear this thing? According to the Washington University School of Medicine, it was primarily used on horseback. It also functioned solely as a hearing aid, not as a water canteen, so you'd have to carry a real canteen too if you wanted a drink.

4. Beard Receptacle
Just after the water canteen aid on the link above, you can see a device called a "Beard Receptacle." It was just for the men, of course. It was situated around the chin and hidden by the beard, with parts that stuck in your ears. It all sounds very precarious.

3. Soundbite
I've written about this new hearing device a few times on my blog, most recently here. The Soundbite is worn on your teeth, and conducts sound through your jawbone. It has not yet completed FDA trials, so don't go rushing out to buy one quite yet.

2. iPhone
Instead of buying a new device just for your hearing, why not put an existing device you own to good use? If you happen to own an iPhone, you can try out the soundAMP app, available in the iTunes store. You can use either the built-in microphone or an external microphone. It may not compare to a hearing aid bought from an audiologist, but it might get you by in some situations. Perfect for the people above who've moved into the 21st century and are still embarrassed about their loss, and much easier to hide than a fan you have to bite.

1. Ear lobe
And now the #1 weirdest hearing aid ever. I chose this one because it's the only one on this list that actually involves body modification. That's right, body modification, and none of that easy surgery either. To get this aid, you have to stretch your earlobe - as though you wanted to wear a gauge in it. And actually, you do. A functional gauge.

I wrote about this hearing aid, too. It's a concept design from Design Affairs in Germany. Perfect for the stylish 21st century young adult who isn't interested in acoustic chairs or hiding a hearing aid in their beard.

Thanks to the Washington University School of Medicine's "Deafness in Disguise" page and the Hugh Hetherington On-line Hearing Museum.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

That's Not What That Question is For

On Tuesday I had a doctor's appointment - not related to my hearing but something else (turns out I have to go have some procedures done on April 12, which will be fun). They sent me the new patient paperwork ahead of time and I dutifully filled it all out the week previous.

One of the questions asked how I would like them to announce it was my turn when I was waiting in the waiting room. I could choose prefixes like Miss or Mrs., my first name, my last name, etc. I know they are primarily asking the question for privacy reasons, but I immediately made the decision based on what's easier for me with my hearing loss, more so than any privacy concerns.

I chose to have them call me by my first and last name. I figured, if I don't hear my first name (Megan - which can be tricky and blend into the background a bit) then I would definitely hear my last name, or at the very least hear a combination of sounds like my first and last name.

They went ahead and just used my first name anyway when they called me, but I found it funny my reasons for choosing from the options they gave me. :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tracking Battery Life

When I bought my new hearing aids in October, they came with three years' worth of hearing aid batteries from my wonderful audiologist. Today I stopped by to pick up some more and learned that they had switched brands. Previously I was using Rayovac Proline batteries, and what I got today are "Audigy Group" branded batteries, but I'm not sure of the manufacturer.

So far I've noticed that my hearing aids' battery life is dependent on the brand. Energizer standard 312s gave me just a couple days of life while Rayovac Prolines give me a week or so. I'm curious to see how these Audigy Group batteries do. I thought about using a paper calendar and just attaching the strips from the batteries as I put new ones in, but this brand is manufactured without those strips.

So I decided to make a Google Calendar for my batteries. I just set up a new calendar (under "My Calendars" at the left, select Create) and it became one of my half a dozen other calendars in Google. I just add a notation for the day "L (or R) - Rayovac (or Audigy Group, or Energizer, etc)" to tell me which side I switched out and what brand I replaced the battery with.

Have any of you been tracking battery life? What are your results? How do you track it?

Monday, March 22, 2010

About Confidence, and Hearing Aid Programs

At one of my first appointments just after getting my new hearing aids, I mentioned to my audiologist that I was having difficulty hearing at work. At work I spent 50-60% of my time in a huge, cavernous windowed room sitting at a desk assisting patrons. Any time I was out there, I was having difficulty. Surrounding sounds just seemed to take precedence over one lone voice talking to me over the counter. Conversations all around me, the hum of the computer lab just behind the desk, music playing from the cafe area and other distractions all combined to make it very difficult for me to hear what I actually needed to.

The audiologist set up a second program on my hearing aid that diminished sound to my right, left, and behind me. He made a few other adjustments and sent me on my way. I was excited... but also very nervous to give it a try. I imagined that if it did not work I would feel frustrated, and the patrons wouldn't get the help they needed. Not only that, but I had just gotten the aids, and felt nervous about how to actually set them into a different program.

So that program languished unused until Saturday night. I was not at work, but my husband and I decided to go to PF Chang's to celebrate his new job. They were very busy, and we were seated at a table for two right in the middle of all the noise. I was having a lot of difficulty hearing him and even just dealing with all the noise... it was really starting to hurt and I was unhappy.

Then I got the idea to try my new program. After all, the person I needed to hear was directly in front of me, and I didn't have any reason to pay attention to the chattering going on to my sides or behind me. So I figured out how to set the program, which was a little tricky. It was amazing the difference that it made, though! The sounds around me were not silenced, but just much more quiet. I imagine it sounded the way a person with typical hearing would hear in a restaurant. To be able to "mute" my surroundings and still hear Scotty was awesome.

I can't say I'm still not nervous about using the program at work, but it's given me enough confidence to give it a try. Since I can still hear my surroundings, if I need to hear someone coming up behind me or calling me I should still be able to, just with a bit more difficulty. I think I will try setting the program just before getting out to the desk area.

Sometimes all you need is to try something in a comfortable situation before getting the confidence to try it elsewhere.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Genetic Testing Registry Available in 2011

Since I was just writing about getting genetically tested to find the cause of my hearing loss, I was happy to see this news item about the National Institutes for Health announcing a Genetic Testing Registry. You can see the site, which the NIH hopes to be fully operational in 2011, here.

The Genetic Testing Registry will be a place for consumers, health officials, doctors, researchers, and others to find out information about the availability of genetic testing, what types of genetic tests are available, and laboratories in their area. It will also "[f]acilitate genetic and genomic data-sharing for research and new scientific discoveries."

According to their web site, there are currently 1,600 genetic tests available but no single resource to find out information about them. The site will not publish individuals' genetic test results.

I think this is going to be a useful resource once it gets off the ground. If I haven't gotten genetically tested by 2011, I hope I can turn to this site for information.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Check Out These Photos From the 2010 Winter Paralympics

The Paralympics are held every four years and are open to athletes with visual and physical disabilities. The 2010 Winter Paralympics are currently going on (until March 21st) and are being held in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

Take a look at these photos from of the current Paralympics.

These photos are amazing and awe-inspiring. These people are such amazing athletes. They have so much strength.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Esteem, A Fully Implantable Hearing Aid, Gets FDA Approval

Today the FDA approved the first completely implantable hearing aid, which is designed to treat sensorineural hearing loss.

According to the press release and this LA Times blog post, the Esteem is a hearing system - with a sound processor, sensor and driver which work in concert to assist the patient with their specific hearing loss. The device has no external components. There are some possible side effects from the surgery necessary to implant the device, which can include facial paralysis and taste disturbance. (I'm not an expert on cochlear implants, but from what I've read they can also cause the same problems due to the surgery.)

The Esteem is for adults 18 and over and can be used to treat stable sensorineural hearing loss - I guess progressive loss wouldn't make you a good candidate for the surgery. Your inner ear has to have normal anatomy and, according to the article, "[a] patient's ability to understand speech using Esteem should be similar to that of conventional hearing aids."

So it sounds like the Esteem is an alternative to hearing aids. I can see the desire for a hearing aid that is completely hidden, but I can't see the same subset of people who want an "invisible" aid being willing to go under the knife for surgery to get it, when normal hearing aids would assist them just as much. The FDA article says that 93% of the people who got the implant in the clinical trial "scored equal to or better than their pre-implant hearing aids on a speech intelligibility test." I'd be interested to know how many of them were equal and how many were better, because I don't know if I'd get surgery just to have hearing the same as it always was with aids.

This really is pretty cool. To be able to have a hearing device that is unnoticeable from the outside is a neat achievement for science. There are many ways to approach the subject. For example, some people who wear aids like to make them prominent so that people will know they have a loss and adjust what they do accordingly. The Esteem would mean no one would have an idea you had a loss unless you told them.

It's definitely an interesting advancement. I'm looking forward to learning more about it as more people get the implant.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Genetic Testing

I've been thinking that the next time I make a visit to my audiologist (hopefully in the next month or so, but we'll have to see), I'll ask him about genetic testing. When I was a kid, in the early 90s, doctors said my loss was not genetic, but so many leaps and bounds have been done in this area of research. It wasn't until I started looking at other people's stories of their loss and what caused it that I realized the reason I have a hearing loss could very well be my genes.

I'd love to know what caused my hearing loss. Not for any particular reason, just to have the answers. To be told we have no idea when I asked why I was deaf as a kid was frustrating. Not only that, but if it is genetic, I'd like to know if there's the possibility my kids might have the same loss. Not that it would change my plans to have kids, but it's nice to know what might happen, and be prepared for it. Plus... I'm kind of a science geek and I think genetics is fascinating.

Have you had genetic testing to see why you have a hearing loss? If not, are you interested in it?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lipreading, Helen Keller, and Cellphones

Today I watched the following video shared by Elizabeth on her blog (the video is captioned). In it, Anne Sullivan describes the process by which Helen Keller learned to sense mouth movements and to speak.

I was fascinated by the video and the eloquent way the method was described.

Then, I read about German research into creating a cellphone that can sense muscle activity and "read lips." The person speaking into the cellphone does not need to make any sound whatsoever - they can simply mouth words and be understood by the person on the other end of the line. Certainly useful for mute people, people who have difficulty speaking clearly due to hearing impairment, and even for privacy concerns among the public.

As amazing as the technology is, I find the human ability to adapt, as demonstrated in Helen Keller, even more amazing. I always considered Helen a hero, even as a child. I attended a public school named Keller (though I don't know if it was named after her), and learning about someone so courageous who dealt with so many obstacles was inspiring to me as a child.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spongebob Hearing Aids!

Every time I read about kids getting fun stuff with their hearing aids like little stuffed Mickey Mouse toys, I get just a bit jealous of those lucky kids. I wish I'd had more options as a kid beyond just picking out colors for my earmold (purple, all the way)! My hearing aids were always beige. Blah, beige. Even when the world moved beyond beige computing accessories and into spiffy black and silver, hearing aids remained the dullest of all colors. Deafness has a blog post up about a new fun addition for kids with hearing aids - aids featuring Nickelodeon characters like Dora the Explorer, Spongebob, etc. They will be manufactured by Starkey Labs. How cool would it be to walk into school with a Spongebob Squarepants accessory not every kid can own?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

YouTube's Automated Captions Now Available for All

Thanks to all of you for your great suggestions about camping with hearing aids. A dry bag sounds like it would be a good idea for camping with hearing aids - something I will look into next time I go camping (which will probably be in a year or so, for this same event)!

YouTube's decision to add captioning to all YouTube users/videos has been a popular news item lately. I first wrote about YouTube's automated captions in November 2009 when they rolled out the service for a handful of partner channels. As of March 4, they've made captioning available for everyone. Content uploaders can request processing on their videos, and viewers will be able to translate the captions. Of course, since it's automatic, there are pitfalls; voice recognition is not perfect, and if dialogue is muffled the captions will be off.

I haven't yet found any videos I wanted to watch with auto captions, but much of what I watch on YouTube is music videos and songs. I really like that this feature is now available for everyone.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Camping Trips - What Do You Do With Your Aids?

I just got back from a camping trip over the weekend. It was great, a lot of fun. I'll end this post with a few photos from the weekend.

When you are camping, what do you do with your hearing aids and/or cochlear implants and/or other hearing accessories? Ever since I was a kid I have been worried about something happening to my aids while camping. Water damage, dropping them in a wash, desert dirt/dust/sand, etc. However, I have too much of a loss to just leave them at home, and that would probably be more dangerous than taking them with me.

I simply made sure I had batteries this time and brought along a very useful little box I got with my hearing aids when I bought them. It's a heavy plastic sliding box and while it's likely not waterproof it is very secure and sturdy. I put that in the little satchel attached to the tent the first night. Much better than a baggie, which is what I used to do before. I didn't have to worry about them falling down because the box was more protection than a baggie. The second night we slept in a camper with much better areas for putting the aids, though I still put them in the box.

All right, time for photos:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Infant Hearing Screening and Followup Care

I'm back from camping and feeling relaxed and happy. I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend.

Today I read an article on ParentDish about infant hearing screening. According to the author, 97% of infants are now screened for hearing loss (a step up from 1999 figures that showed only 46.5%), but the children who fail the tests are not receiving the followup care they need to make sure they don't have difficulties with language and speech. A report linked to in the blog post has recommendations for what to do if an infant fails the screening: "...a diagnostic screening for those who failed the initial test before they are 3 months old, and enrollment in an early intervention program before the age of 6 months for those diagnosed with hearing loss."

I don't know if I had this infant hearing screening when I was born in 1986. My hearing loss is progressive and when it was actually identified in 1991, I had only a mild loss, so perhaps when I was a newborn the loss would have been undetectable - if I was actually born with a loss. I'm not sure.

I do know that when my mother had concerns about my loss, she initially took me to a hearing screening program being done by volunteers (I think) at a local elementary school. They told her I was just being a typical toddler by refusing to return to her when she called my name, running out into traffic, etc. It was clues like wanting to hear her read stories to me only if she was sitting on one side (my good ear) and my response time to sounds that convinced her I really did have a loss.

She took me to Arizona State University's audiology clinic where they quickly determined I had a hearing loss. I should dig out the report sometime, because it's very interesting reading. Even though I had a hearing loss I had very good communicative skills. Though I wasn't diagnosed with my loss until I was four, I didn't suffer or have delays because of it.

Infants born with hearing loss who don't receive help may not be so lucky. It's important that infants be screened, but they can't just be screened and then left behind. Something has to be done to help them. I agree with the recommendations in the report; an early intervention program to ensure they don't fall behind is a good idea.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Camping Weekend

Tomorrow I'm leaving to spend the weekend camping at a Geocaching event (if you haven't heard of Geocaching, click the link - it's a lot of fun). See you guys Monday!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Help a Deaf Teen With His Eagle Scout Project

David is a teenager working on an Eagle Scout project, which he has decided will be a website for deaf teenagers. He has a blog chronicling his journey on the project here and is looking for your stories - whether you're a teenager or not - about hearing loss. According to David, the stories he's looking for include "personal experiences, how you lost your hearing, what device you have and things that have helped you with your deafness/hearing loss," as well as parents' perspectives on children with hearing loss.

He has a Facebook fan page for the project, too, here.

I'm currently working on my story, which I will be sending to David and posting here. I'm not sure what I want to write about yet, but it'll get done! I encourage everyone to send their story in to David.