Now hear this — take action to protect ears

Day by Day:
Now hear this — take action to protect ears

By LIZ THOMPSON
May 19, 2019
This Week Community News

My brother-in-law offered me ear protection before I aimed the pistol at the target.

“I don’t think I can get any deafer, Richard,” I said.

People forget that I can hear because of my miraculous cochlear implants. The deafness part is hard for most to grasp. But Richard laughed and said, “I guess not!”

How does anyone become deaf or lose any degree of hearing?

I likely was born with hearing loss. It was discovered at age 9, and by 50 I was deaf.

The Hearing Health Foundation says I’m not alone.

In the U.S., 48 million people have hearing loss; that number is 360 million worldwide, according to the foundation.

Three in five are returning military service members. Hearing loss and tinnitus – ringing or buzzing in the ears – are the top two reported health concerns among service members, both active and veterans.

Hearing loss is the second-most prevalent health issue globally. The number of people with hearing loss is more than those living with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes combined.

Hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline, dementia, depression, hospitalization and heart disease.

From 2000 to 2015, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled. Globally, the number is up by 44 percent.

I guessed correctly the reason for the increase in hearing loss. The Hearing Health Foundation said hearing loss is on the rise because of increased noise – which is preventable – and our aging population.

Noise-induced hearing loss happens when people are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work or leisure activities.

Sound is measured in decibels. Sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss. Decibel levels in everyday situations include movie theaters (74-104 dBA); lawn mowers (80-100 dBA); sporting events, concerts or music through headphones (90-100 dBA); sirens (110-129 dBA); and fireworks (140-160 dBA).

Unfortunately, we don’t always have control of noise. It seems everywhere I go, a television or music is blaring. Overhead speaker announcements in stores make me jump because they are so loud.

Add general noise and voices – often shouting over noise – and the decibels rise to dangerous levels.

Robert Kambic, a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the HHF, “By 2022, live music-industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver.”

“This means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification,” Kambic said.

One loud concert with volume up to 120 decibels can cause permanent damage.

Hearing loss among musicians is common. Constant exposure to noise – even if it’s beautiful music – can permanently damage ears.

Cochlear implants restore hearing, but I can attest to the fact that music does not always return as it once was. Music is complicated, and implants are designed to understand speech. I have a music program on my voice processors that helps me appreciate music better, but I no longer have the ability to comprehend if I sing on pitch.

Performing is in my past. I enjoy instrumental music, play my keyboard and love to watch closed-captioned performances on television – especially songs I knew before deafness.

Other causes of hearing loss including genetic factors, trauma, ototoxic medications (medicine-induced hearing loss), and viral or bacterial infections.

Is it a hopeless fight? No.

Will the numbers keep increasing? Yes – if we don’t take action.

Buy and use earplugs and earmuffs. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. They are available at music stores, online and at hardware and other retail stores. Search “earplugs” at hhf.org for recommendations.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month to encourage people to take protective action.

I urge each reader to turn down the noise and enjoy the quiet before that is all you hear. Treasure and protect the gift of hearing.

 

Music sparks boundless joy, even as ears fail

Day by Day: Music sparks boundless joy, even as ears fail

By LIZ THOMPSON

Jun 18, 2018
This Week Community News

Tevye was singing the opening song for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” doing his dance down the dirt road. As I watched, my insides did a dance, too. I broke out in a huge grin and almost giggled. I sang along.

My singing voice has long since gone the way of my hearing, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was overflowing with joy and a delicious sense of well-being.

I had a similar reaction when I watched “My Fair Lady” with my granddaughter, Elizabeth. My memory of music, playing and singing these songs years ago, was simply delightful.

My ears now are deaf. I perceive all sounds through my cochlear implant’s voice processors. My memory of sound, including music, is important for that perception to be more understandable.

If I know what song is being played or sung, and it’s one I knew before my deafness, I can “hear” it. Visuals such as Tevye dancing or Eliza Doolittle singing while she wrapped violets help me remember.

After my first implant in my right ear in 2002, speech was so clear, I spent a lot of time listening and learning to trust what I heard. In 2009, my second implant was in my left ear.

With the second implant, understanding music was better. In time, even without visual cues, sometimes I could distinguish a song I knew before deafness. Since then, I learned we process speech with our right ear/left brain and music with our left ear/right brain. I enjoy some music that is new to me, especially instrumental.

Music was a major part of worship for me — praising God, thanking him with songs such as “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Amazing Grace.”

Familiar hymns often transport me to the days of singing in choirs or while my grandmother played the piano and my mom and I sang.

By high school, my hearing loss must have been moderate, affecting my speech comprehension. My grades plummeted. These were the days of teachers writing on blackboards while talking away from the class — no technology visuals.

Since I had no clue what I was missing, I seldom asked for help.

But music — choir, small groups and musicals — got me through high school. An hour of singing brought my self-esteem back to normal.

I thank God for Ron Kenreich, who started as my music director in 1968, my senior year at Westerville (South) High School (Ohio). He was patient but kept his expectations high so we had something to reach for. He made music fun while teaching us its complexities and giving us new opportunities.

“The students welcomed me and their desire to perform beautiful music inspired me,” Kenreich said. “I can’t imagine my life without music. I still enjoy accompanying students at music contests and recitals.” Those students are fortunate.

“In some choirs,” Kenreich said, “members can even have similar heartbeats. Music memory can last a lifetime. It is possible for nursing-home residents to sing along with old hymns when they are unable to recall anything else.”

Music is everywhere: in nature, lullabies, the ABCs song, at weddings, funerals, sporting events and dances. We sing “Happy Birthday to You,” and our children and grandchildren learn Bible verses set to music.

Our granddaughter is studying music in college and is a wonderful pianist and violinist. This year was her first chorus experience. She said she now understands why I loved singing. When I told her about my recent emotions with music, in particular the Tevye moment, she told me that listening to music affects the brain and releases serotonin and dopamine, which are called “happiness hormones.”

Twenty-five years after my 1969 graduation, I walked into a church where Kenreich played the organ and his wife, Beth, directed the choir. I joined. That was my last choir experience, with a double Kenreich blessing.

“Music has filled my life with unimaginable joy,” Kenreich said.

Me, too, Ron. In part, thanks to you.

 

Frustration out west spurred self-assurance

Frustration out west spurred self-assurance

By LIZ THOMPSON

February 19, 2018

This Week News

Twenty-two years ago this month, I did something I regret.

I have reconciled, but can’t forget, so I hope this will serve as a fair warning to others.

If you have ever visited or lived in the Southwest — in particular, Arizona — you’ll understand in a moment.

Winter is the most beautiful time of year there. The mountains burst with riotous flowers. Even the spiky cacti bloom.

When my husband and I moved to Phoenix in July, we were greeted by record heat of 121 degrees. We learned quickly not to go barefoot on the concrete, to drink water all day and to leave the car windows open a bit.

Once winter hit, 70 degrees felt cold. Don’t laugh — that’s 50 degrees cooler than the hottest time of summer.

In job interviews, I was upfront about my hearing loss, not yet the self-advocate I would become. A job offer came, and my only request was that I would not be asked to answer phones. “No problem,” I was told by the CEO’s secretary in the interview.

I shared an office with that same woman, and within a week, she found repeated reasons to leave our office for long periods of time. I reminded her of my request and she said to take messages.

That was like asking a 5-year old to type the financial reports for me.

Failure and many embarrassing situations ensued. I hated feeling incompetent.

A phone ringing put my stomach in knots. Names and numbers were almost impossible for me to comprehend without caller ID. My boss did all he could to help me, but he, too, was baffled. Other staffers were very kind, as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was still young.

Finally, I contacted an Arizona state agency for the deaf and those with partial hearing loss, asking for assistance on how to handle the situation. My first clue to the problem should have been when the agency contact suggested meeting at a noisy restaurant. I had to read her lips and have her repeat and repeat.

Her advice, which I should have questioned and, unfortunately, was one of the comments I understood, was: “Without a college degree, you’ll never get a job paying above minimum wage.”

I shook internally, like I do when something serious is impending or happening.

We were about to leave and I said the conversation would have been easier using sign language.

“You know sign?” she said casually. “I didn’t think so since you aren’t deaf.”

But I did know it, and I soon was to be called “functionally deaf.”

Since she was supposed to be the expert, I thought I had no other options. I didn’t know who else to ask.

My husband and I talked it through many times, but we had no other ideas for my employment. Finally, I begged my husband to move back to Ohio — to what was familiar.

He picked up my final paycheck for me. The employee asked him why I was leaving. When he told her my hearing loss was making it difficult to do my job, she said, “I wish she’d said something. My sister is deaf. I could have helped her.”

My husband left a job he loved in a place we’d both learned to love to come back to Ohio, all because he loves me.

We returned to Ohio in February, the grayest month. I swore I’d never get myself in a spot like that again and that I would find answers, even when they seemed elusive.

That experience made me an advocate for people with hearing loss or any special need. I never wanted anyone to have that much doubt in their abilities or think options were so few.

Seven years later, with me now sporting a cochlear implant and true ability to hear and understand, we moved back to the Valley of the Sun. I worked in schools with special-needs children, hoping to spark their confidence. Three years later, we chose to move back to Ohio.

God didn’t put that old doubt in my mind, so be careful when taking advice — expert or not. Don’t live on regrets — learn from them.

 

Amid negative news, altruism spurs gratitude

Day by Day:
Amid negative news, altruism spurs gratitude

By LIZ THOMPSON
November 21, 2017

This Week News

Giving thanks means different things to different people.

I’m thankful for each new day as I wake and put my voice processors on and sounds rush in that eluded me for years as I became deaf.

Thanks to cochlear-implant technology, I hear and understand speech, along with all the beautiful sounds — and the annoying ones — in our world.

I put my feet on the floor and push to stand, and I’m thankful my multiple sclerosis didn’t steal that ability as I slept.

The fragrance of coffee greets me as I arrive in the kitchen and see my husband of almost 40 years.

As I do a mental scan over my years, I realize many people encouraged my faith and ability to be content no matter my situation.

Years ago, I broke my ankle and a fellow Battelle secretary sent me a card with this Scripture from Philippians 4:8: ” … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

Negativity abounds, and it can be a challenge to stay positive. The news, in general, seems to focus on crime, politics and disasters without the balance of good news and both sides of the story so we can form our own opinions.

Many people selflessly gave of their time to help those affected by the storms and fires this year. These people-helping-people stories are a breath of fresh air.

It would be naive to close our eyes to problems and not watch the news. I do recommend sifting through the blast of media to find the truth, when possible, and not the hype or the short sentences that don’t tell the whole story. Do some research to seek “what is true and what is right.”

Some of that searching will show stories in our own town.

Last year, I wrote about the Stitching Sisters formed in 2004 by nurse practitioner Joanne Lester and 10 oncology patients.

This group of quilters has grown to nearly 400 people working on these blankets in some capacity. They started making quilts for oncology patients at James Care in Dublin.

The good news about this group, whose members work year-round, never seems to stop.

Lester told me, “We’ve surpassed 17,000 quilts since 2005. We are now providing quilts for nearly all the outpatients receiving chemotherapy at the James Cancer Hospital (at) the Ohio State University.”

For each of these cancer patients who snuggle into a quilt during treatment, this group of people works to make each day more bearable. Patients and quilters alike probably were able to think, at least for a moment, about the good things.

Chuck Rees is president of the Gahanna (Ohio) Lions Club. He joined in December 1983 after he had this experience:

“I was assigned to take turkey, ham and groceries to a woman who was mother to seven boys. The 4-year-old gave a big hug and said there is a Santa Claus. I started crying and so was everyone else. I asked the mother why it was so cold in the house. She said the electric and gas had been turned off due to nonpayment.”

This Lions Club dug deep into their pockets to collect $200 to pay her utilities.

Speaking of cold, it is upon us. The Knitting/Crochet Ministry of St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church in Gahanna is making hats, scarves, blankets and more for those in need. This year, the ministry will exceed 15,000 handmade items as it gives to 48 different organizations. Members also made 50 fleece blankets, 100 men’s hat sets and 60 women’s sets for homeless or needy veterans in the Stand Down program.

More than 150 people knit and crochet for this ministry, and not just in Ohio.

Efforts such as these are happening all around us. You likely have a story of your own.

We may not see your story on the news, but many people are helping to create a thankful attitude our nation needs.

 

Sounds of spring often go unheard

Day by day

Sounds of spring often go unheard

LIZ THOMPSON
May 3, 2016

This Week Newspapers

Spring is in full swing and along with it comes birdsong, children’s laughter, wind chimes gently clanging in the breeze, rain splattering on the roof and windows, thunderstorms and — on the warm days — quiet conversations on decks, porches, patios and in campgrounds and parks.

All this delicious activity we wait for all winter long. But for about 20 percent of Americans — 48 million people — with some degree of hearing loss, these springtime gifts are diminished.

These millions can see the birds, but can’t hear the songs.

They see the children laughing.

These millions can see the wind chimes moving in the wind, but the melodious sounds elude them.

The lightning of a storm is present for these many, but the thunder might only be felt, not heard.

They see the rain hitting the windowpanes, but no pitter-patter sound meets their ears.

But most disheartening of all is the inability to carry on a conversation. Words are muddled or lost, and the meaning of a conversation is beyond their comprehension.

They sit feeling the warmth of the sun and watch the words being spoken; the jokes they won’t get or be able to repeat.

These same people use what they can to make sense of the noisy world we live in through touch, vision, taste and smell.

Many simply withdraw. It’s tiring trying to understand.

Even the best lip reader will grasp only a small percentage of a conversation.

I’m one of the millions with hearing loss.

At 39, I got my long-overdue first hearing aid and heard bacon sizzling for the first time in years. I was terrified during a spring storm. But my loving husband took me outside and explained the noises that had been lost for so many years, and my fear subsided.

The world of sound was partially back, but not for long. By 50, I was deaf, but with the miracle of a cochlear implant, hearing was restored with a clarity I might never have had in my entire life with hearing loss.

I had said, “Huh?” so often in my life that I had to unlearn using it.

But I’m still deaf when the batteries die.

For those who understood words prior to hearing loss and can no longer understand the world around them, it’s lonely. The noise of this world is creating more people who have hearing loss every day.

Causes include excessive noise, medications, heredity, viruses, disease, ear malformations, tumors, head trauma and aging.

Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented. The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels.

Some common sounds and their noise levels are: 20 dB, rustling leaves; 60 dB, normal conversations or dishwashers; 60-70 dB, normal piano practice; 80 dB, alarm clocks; 90 dB, hair dryers, blenders and lawnmowers; 100 dB, MP3 players at full volume; 110 dB, concerts (any music genre), car racing and sporting events; 130 dB, ambulances and fire-engine sirens; 140 dB, gunshots, fireworks and custom car stereos at full volume.

It is worth the time to find ear protection. Even musicians who mostly make beautiful sounds can use special ear protection to keep performing and enjoying music for years to come.

The noise is too loud when: you have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby; the noise hurts your ears; you develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears; or you don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.

Excessive exposure to loud noise also can cause stress, illness, sleep disruption and high blood pressure.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss.

About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf. It is estimated that 30 schoolchildren per 1,000 have hearing loss.

Childhood noise risks include noisy toys, sporting events, band class, motorbikes, farm equipment, movie theaters, shop class, arcades, concerts, firearms, fireworks, power tools and MP3 players.

If you suspect you or your child has hearing loss, see an ear, nose and throat doctor or your primary-care physician to rule out any medical condition.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. It’s a good time to remember the value of our hearing and ability to communicate.

Life’s too short to miss the music of laughter. It’s nice to understand why others are laughing, too.

For more information, visit hearingloss.org.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss. About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf.

 

I am only one…

“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” Edward Everett Hale, American Clergyman and writer 1822-1909

This quote was in a memorial service program of a woman I grew up around the corner from in Westerville in the 50s and 60s.

I read about a woman who was employed in her adult life as a housekeeper in the White House. Each day she cleaned the Oval Office, she knelt and prayed for the president.

A small thing? Time wise, yes, but powerful .

One person, one prayer, something each of us can do. Maybe not in school any longer, but silent prayers are heard as well.

We all need kindness. Often the simplest act can make our day and these are typically done by one person. Someone opens the door for us, and smiles. A neighbor leans over the fence with a bag of red tomatoes (and probably zucchini!) from their garden. Somebody walking down the street replaces windblown garbage can lids. A friend calls to say hello. We receive a letter from our grandchild.

It doesn’t take much to make a person’s day a little brighter.

I always believed God let me become deaf for a reason. He allowed my two cochlear implants to restore my ability to hear clearly for that same reason: To enable me to listen and show His love one person at a time.

Reading the quote above, I know I can’t do everything – and don’t really want to – but it’s not all about me. No matter how small, or seemingly insignificant, I believe God is the orchestrator and someday it will all make sense.

Meanwhile, during these turbulent times in our country, each of us can do something. One day we will learn how the dots are connected and see the whole picture.

Hearing loss symptoms should prompt call to doctor

Day by day
Hearing loss symptoms should prompt call to doctor
By Liz Thompson
April 29, 2015
This Week News

As a youth, I loved swimming underwater. Watching the air bubbles rise to the surface caused my head to lift and see blue sky. Underwater I didn’t worry about hearing and I felt normal. Underwater everyone heard like I did.

Needing air, soon I’d burst through the water’s rim gasping. Then I’d hear it: noise. Laughing, slapping of water, yelling and the lifeguard’s whistle. I’d dive back under for peace.

By 50, I was almost deaf, wearing hearing aids, reading lips and body language. The miracle of a cochlear implant restored more than 90 percent of my hearing with clarity I’d never experienced. A few years later, a second implant gave me “surround sound.” I am permanently above water, living in a world of clear sounds, not mere noise.

Hearing loss is invisible. No tests existed in 1951, my birth year, to check babies’ hearing. Today a problem can be found within days of a child’s birth, giving way to treatment or therapy.

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association teaches that signs of hearing loss in a child include: lack of attention to sounds (birth to 1 year); not responding when calling his/her name (7 months to 1 year); not following simple directions (1-2 years); delays in speech and language development (birth to 3 years); pulls or scratches at his/her ears; once in school, has difficulty achieving academically; socially isolated and unhappy in school; and persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise.

I encourage those who suspect hearing loss in their children to seek an accredited audiologist and ear, nose and throat physician to have your child examined.

Likewise, I urge adults who suspect hearing loss to be tested. It’s easy to ignore signs stating hearing aids are expensive — and they are — or they won’t work for them. I lived with both thoughts until I finally got a hearing aid at age 39, knowing since 29 I needed one.

I have learned the average person waits seven years to get a hearing aid after being told it would help. Do the math: I waited 10 years. Stubborn.

Signs of hearing loss in adults include: inattentiveness; buzzing or ringing in their ears; failure to respond to spoken words; persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise; muffled hearing; constant frustration understanding speech and other sounds; avoiding conversation; social isolation; accusing everyone of mumbling; and depression.

Heather Pliskin, director of speech services at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center, said that communication skills are directly related to academic success.

“Speaking, listening, reading and writing are the foundational skills for school and for life. Early intervention is the key. The earlier a child receives speech-language therapy, the faster the progress can be made,” Pliskin said.

Red flags for possible communication delays include: age 1, not saying a few words or pointing to pictures and objects; and age 2, not using simple two-word combinations and not being understood 70 percent of the time.

Preschool/early elementary school: age 2-3, not following one- to two-step directions; age 3, not using correct common pronouns and not being understood 80 percent of the time, 90 percent by age 5.
“When a child is young — especially before age 3 — it is especially important to involve the parents and/or caregivers in the process,” Pliskin said.

Audrey Tobias agreed.

“Speech therapy has improved the lives of every member of our family. When our son started receiving therapy at 2.5 years old, he had a vocabulary of zero spoken words. He couldn’t even say ‘no.’ We were scared to leave him in the care of anyone else because there was no way for him to tell us if anything went wrong.

“Now, two years later, he is a funny chatterbox! He cracks jokes all the time and loves to make complicated, exciting plans. We know what is going on in his life and what he’s thinking. For the first time, we feel like we really know who our son is as a person. It’s been an amazing transformation. We are extremely grateful for the skilled help he continues to receive.”

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. Columbus Speech and Hearing Center is giving away two hearing aids to the essay winner who is most in need to understand the world around them. Go to columbusspeech.org and click the Hearing What Matters link before May 11 to learn how to enter.

The music of this world is up for grabs.

Come out from under the water and listen, and tell me all about it.

For more information, go to asha.org, dangerousdecibels.org, apraxia-kids.org or playingwithwords365.com.