Oral storytelling is one of the most ancient art-forms. Stories have been passed on by word of mouth to entertain, educate and inform from generation to generation, long before recorded history.
Although these oral traditions have changed, the desire to TELL and HEAR stories remained constant. This is why hearing loss can have such a significant impact on everyday life.
The sudden change in hearing ability after receiving new hearing aids or cochlear implants impacts most aspects of your life, but listening exercises can vastly improve one’s auditory skills.
Those who are unable to participate in conversations can experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration. Thankfully, there are ways to rehabilitate from the loss of hearing, through technology and auditory training.
Audiobook exercises can be conducted at home or as part of an Auditory Rehab program. A Rehab Specialist, such as a rehab audiologist, an auditory verbal therapist or speech pathologist, can guide and coach you on the strategy, as well as recommend sessions where family or significant others can join in and learn effective communication techniques. Therapy-based services can help you successfully put the pieces of the communication puzzle together.
Today, a new era of oral storytelling or audio books is booming with mobile technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and multimedia entertainment systems in cars and podcasts over the internet.
Audiobooks, especially, are easily accessible and an enjoyable way to practice listening that can be completed independently at your own pace. They are particularly useful for patients who might have difficulty finding a suitable conversational partner. Auditory training at home with audio books and the corresponding texts is an enjoyable rehabilitation option that spans the scope of a beginner to experienced cochlear implant user.
Your first book should be a book you are already familiar with and have even read a few times. This serves as a way to get the “feel” of the audiobook experience which focuses on listening not vision. You’ll find that it’s quite different from reading paper books, so ease yourself into this and don’t rush. Non-fiction books are a good beginning as the storyline is familiar and predictable.
Select audiobooks that have a clear narrator, a relatively slow pace and without accents foreign to you. Consider books with few characters to follow. Sound effects and background music should be limited as not to obscure the spoken words of the book.
Select audiobooks that have a clear narrator, a relatively slow pace and without accents foreign to you.
It is important to listen in a quiet room or connect your sound source directly to your cochlear implant processors or hearing aids with a Telecoil, Bluetooth or a direct audio input cable.
There are three listening levels based on your auditory experience and skills.
As a beginner, try listening to an unabridged audiobook while reading the book simultaneously. This helps you to make the connection between the words you hear and words. By listening and looking at the words at the same time, a connection can be made and comprehension soars.
If this level is a challenge: Ask a friend to read a written passage out loud to you while you follow along reading the words. Run your fingers along the words as they are spoken. This is easier than a recorded audiobook because you are familiar with the friend’s voice and speaking style. A friend can respond to your requests to slow down, repeat or make changes based on your abilities.
When you become more familiar with the practice of listening to audiobooks, listen to an unabridged audiobook and have the hardcopy book to look at as needed, or to review what was said and heard. Listen to the audiobook for short periods of time as it can be fatiguing.
If this is a challenge try reading the book first. This will help with understanding the topic or plot so you know the storyline as you listen to the audiobook.
Remove the visual and focus on listening ALONE to the audiobook without the written text. Over time this will build your confidence and improve the ability to follow and take part in natural conversation situations.
When it comes to audiobook sources there is your local library and countless companies. Begin with a familiar story such a fable or classic tale and make you book choice based on the narration. Ask a librarian or friend with typical hearing for help choosing a narrator. Resources for free audiobook listening samples are available NoveList Plus, iTunes, and Audible. Consider if the source offers options to listen to multiple speeds and the ability to quickly rewind or fast forward.
A popular option for hearing aid and cochlear implant users is the “Great Listen Guarantee” in which you can exchange one audiobook for another, no questions asked offered by Audible. This allows you can try the audiobook and decide if the sound quality and narrator fit your listening level and needs.
“Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, read by John Lithgow
This is a children’s book that has been read at high school and college graduations! It’s a book well-loved for beginners.
“Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo, read by Cherry Jones
This is a heart-warming story for young adults about a girl who learns how to get over her fear and loneliness thanks to a dog named Winn-Dixie and is perfect for intermediate listeners.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, read by various.
The dramatic reading of this book has a different person reading the different parts, which makes it an excellent audiobook to practice listening and understanding different voices and accents.
Audiobooks are an excellent tool for auditory training and listening practice.
Soon you will be on your way to improved speech understanding for following conversations with much to talk about with all the audiobooks you’ve enjoyed!
According to a recent study by Jamie Desjardins, PhD, an assistant professor in the speech-language pathology program at The University of Texas at El Paso, hearing aids improve brain function in people with hearing loss.
It is known that hearing loss, if left untreated, can lead to emotional and social consequences, reduced job performance, and diminished quality of life. Recently, research has shown that untreated hearing loss also can interfere with cognitive abilities because so much mental effort is diverted toward understanding speech.
“If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost,” said Desjardins in a recent university announcement. “You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.”
Desjardins explained that as people age, basic cognitive skills – working memory, the ability to pay attention to a speaker in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly – begin to decline. Hearing loss affects more than 9 million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20% of people who actually need hearing aids wear them, Desjardins said.
To explore the effects of hearing loss on brain function further, Desjardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids. Study participants took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention, and processing speed abilities prior to and after using hearing aids.
After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function.
“Most people will experience hearing loss in their lifetime,” said Desjardins. “Think about somebody who has hearing loss and is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids. They are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening. They may not be able to perform their job as well. Or if they can, they’re exhausted because they are working so much harder. They are more tired at the end of the day, because it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life.”
Desjardins is currently undertaking a study that focuses on the use of hearing aids by Hispanics. Research shows that only 5% of Mexican-Americans wear hearing aids. She has developed a survey to investigate their attitudes toward hearing loss. The survey will be conducted at health fairs in the community, including one at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas. Desjardins also will begin work on another study that will look at older bilingual people and their ability to understand speech.
Mark Hammel’s hearing was damaged in his 20s by machine gun fire when he served in the Israeli Army. But not until decades later, at 57, did he receive his first hearing aids.
“It was very joyful, but also very sad, when I contemplated how much I had missed all those years,” Dr. Hammel, a psychologist in Kingston, N.Y., said in an interview. “I could hear well enough sitting face to face with someone in a quiet room, but in public, with background noise, I knew people were talking, but I had no idea what they were saying. I just stood there nodding my head and smiling.
“Eventually, I stopped going to social gatherings. Even driving, I couldn’t hear what my daughter was saying in the back seat. I live in the country, and I couldn’t hear the birds singing.
“People with hearing loss often don’t realize what they’re missing,” he said. “So much of what makes us human is social contact, interaction with other human beings. When that’s cut off, it comes with a very high cost.”
And the price people pay is much more than social. As Dr. Hammel now realizes, “the capacity to hear is so essential to overall health.”
Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting adults, and the most common among older adults. An estimated 30 million to 48 million Americans have hearing loss that significantly diminishes the quality of their lives — academically, professionally and medically as well as socially.
One person in three older than 60 has life-diminishing hearing loss, but most older adults wait five to 15 years before they seek help, according to a 2012 report in Healthy Hearing magazine. And the longer the delay, the more one misses of life and the harder it can be to adjust to hearing aids.
As Dr. Hammel put it: “I had lost the habit of listening. After I got the aids, it took me a long time to get back into the habit of paying attention to what people were saying.”
The author of the Healthy Hearing report, Debbie Clason, pointed out that “the sooner you get help for your hearing impairment, the easier it will be for your brain to use the auditory pathways it’s developed for processing sound.”
The National Register of Health Service Psychologists states in an online continuing education course, “For the majority of people with hearing loss, the difficulties faced can wreak havoc in a person’s life.” Yet, the register added, “many people who have hearing loss are not aware of it, do not accept the fact of it, or are unwilling to discuss their hearing loss.”
In a large survey by the National Council on the Aging, two-thirds of older adults with untreated hearing loss explained their reluctance to get a hearing aid with statements like “my hearing is not bad enough” or “I can get along without one,” and one person in five said things like “it would make me feel old” or “I don’t like what others will think about me.”
However, those in the survey who had hearing aids were, on average, more socially active and less likely to be depressed, worried, paranoid or insecure, and their family members and friends were even more likely than they were to have noticed these benefits.
The findings of the survey, conducted among 2,096 hearing-impaired people and 1,710 of their family members and friends, and funded by the Hearing Industries Association, a trade group, were published in 1999, but experts say little has changed in people’s attitudes and treatment of hearing loss.
Many who are hard of hearing don’t realize how distressing it is to family members, who typically report feeling frustrated, annoyed and sad as a consequence of communication difficulties and misunderstandings.
For the hearing-impaired person, confusion, difficulty focusing and distracting thoughts are common cognitive impairments, Andrea Ciorba of the University Hospital of Ferrara in Italy and colleaguesreported in Clinical Interventions in Aging. Other frequently reported problems include an inability to think straight and difficulty making decisions.
When people can’t hear what is being said, they may become anxious and even suspect that others are talking about them behind their backs or saying things others don’t want them to hear. Anger, embarrassment and a loss of self-esteem are common emotional fallout.
Links have also been found to an increased risk of dementia, which is not surprising given the diminished cognitive input among those with untreated hearing loss. In a 2013 study of 1,984 older adults living independently and followed for 11 years with repeated cognitive examinations, “rates of cognitive decline and the risk for incident cognitive impairment were linearly associated with the severity of an individual’s baseline hearing loss,” Dr. Frank R. Lin of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health and his colleagues in the Health ABC Study Group reported.
Untreated hearing loss can have physical consequences as well, including excessive fatigue, stress and headaches, which may result from trying so hard to hear and understand spoken language. One recent study found that moderate to severe hearing loss was associated with a 54 percent increased risk of death, and mild hearing loss with a 27 percent increased risk of death, compared with individuals with normal hearing. Affected individuals also report more problems with eating, sleeping and sex, according to Deborah Touchette, an audiologist in Paradise, Calif.
Working people with poor hearing are more likely to earn less than those with good hearing; they may even risk losing their jobs if the work depends on good communication.
“If the boss says, ‘Don’t go over $15,000 on that contract,’ and the employee hears $50,000, there is a potential for problems,” the national register wrote. A 2011 study by the Better Hearing Institute, the educational arm of the Hearing Industries Association, found that untreated hearing loss adversely affected productivity, performance and career success, and was associated with a loss in annual income that could reach $30,000. Those in the study with severe hearing loss were twice as likely to be unemployed as people with normal hearing and nearly twice as likely to be out of work as their peers who used hearing aids.
There are safety issues, too, for someone who may miss auditory signals important for survival, like alarms, car horns and shouts of warning, as well as the potential impact of missing sounds like the ringing of a telephone, doorbell or alarm clock.