The real world is a noisy place so where better to immerse yourself in daily sounds to improve your listening skills? Dianne, who has had a cochlear implant for 10 years, shares her story and advice about what worked well for her when she started to retrain her brain.
Feeling Humiliated and Deflated
“Conversation is the center of people’s lives. We use language to communicate our feelings, our thoughts. So, when my hearing loss deteriorated in my 30s, I became withdrawn and isolated.
The cause of my hearing loss is unknown. At age 29, I could no longer hear the phone ring unless I was in close proximity. By age 39, I battled as I misunderstood numbers and words.
With each year my hearing loss worsened, my life choices and opportunities diminished. When I could no longer perform my work duties with accuracy, I realized I was unable to work, which felt like a huge personal loss to me.
Increasingly, I had more and more trouble hearing the clarity of people’s speech, socializing became difficult in restaurants with background noise. Going out to dinner and socializing with more than one person became a nightmare. I could no longer follow being part of group conversations. With or without surrounding noise, I was failing to grasp words.
I would rely on facial expressions pretending I was aware of the talk around me. I would go home feeling humiliated and deflated, thinking I wouldn’t put myself in that situation again.
Hearing the phone ring and having a conversation on the phone was a challenge, which became isolating. This isolation continued – until I received my right ear cochlear implant in 2012 at age 57.
The day after switch on, I felt indescribable joy to be given the gift of sound. As a new cochlear implant recipient, I wanted to experience being able to participate in conversations.”
I needed to retrain my brain
“However, I quickly came to realize that I needed to retrain my brain to listen as that part of the brain had not been stimulated for many years.
To achieve my goal, I had to improve my listening skills – and to improve my listening skills in the real world, I had to become part of it.
Every day, I went for a walk listening to all the sounds that surrounded me: voices, birds, wind and waves hitting the rocks.
I went to a café, ordered a coffee, grabbed a newspaper and sat outside on the walking path. From my table I could hear the sound of the coffee machine, cars driving past and people chatting. These were all new sounds for me.
The outdoor tables were close together so I could hear the people at the adjoining table speaking, but there was no clarity to their words.
I decided this would be something to do daily – and it became like a game. I would listen to the conversation at an adjoining table and gradually, I would recognize a word that was said.”
Activities that work
“I did this exercise repeatedly for months. And it worked – I advanced my listening skills.
You can practice your listening skills in a range of settings – from listening to conversations while traveling on public transport, at shopping centers and in doctors’ waiting rooms.
You can listen to one-sided phone conversations while sitting in a cafe. All this enables you to build on your listening skills in different situations – from quiet situations to those with background noise.
So, does it help to listen to conversations around you as a way to improve?
You are listening to unfamiliar talkers with different speech styles, volume and clarity. You have to concentrate as it doesn’t come as easily as listening to family and friends with familiar voices.
During this time, in 2013, I also became bilateral. My only regret was waiting 12 months for the second implant. I believed I would require that length of time to adapt successfully to the first implant. The second implant made a significant difference in my life. I could hear and listen in stereo.
I loved my new world!”
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