Saturday, June 7, 2008

Listening and Hearing

I remember some of the many exhortations the good Sisters of St. Joseph made to me and my classmates as students in Catholic school. One of them was always about listening and hearing. “Do you hear me?” Sister John Phillip would say as the buzz of the classroom grew. When no one would answer, she would query, “And, who is listening to me?” She would usually clang the bell or drop a book on the desk to get our attention. Then, the lecture on the difference between hearing and listening would come. Hearing describes the mechanical functionality of the interplay among sound waves, ears and the brain. Listening is more about the quality of attention being paid to the particular sound, in the classroom case, the human voice and spoken word.

This distinction is often lost on the young, of course, as are many things…although they do make an impression, causing us years later to muse, as I am today, on such things as the difference between hearing and listening.

Our loud culture often contributes to compromising our ability to hear well and long into our later years. So does heredity. If you have or had a parent or grandparent who experienced hearing loss due to “nerve damage,” that is often code for hearing loss due to aging. Hearing loss is not necessarily a fact of aging for everyone, although it does affect thousands.

The world of hearing aids and other devices is a fast changing one due to so many technological possibilities. Phones developed to assist those who are hard of hearing, for example, are hearing aid compatible now, reducing the annoying feedback problem that so often plagues those who try to speak on the phone with a hearing aid in place. We offer corded and cordless options. The XL-50 model amplifies incoming conversation up to 60 decibels louder, making this phone a very useful tool for those with pretty severe hearing loss. The ring is measured at about 95 decibels, which for the healthy ear is as loud as a subway train at about 200 mph.

Listening is another kettle of fish. While these two skills are clearly related, one can have perfect levels of hearing ability and not be a terrific listener. Don’t we all know someone like this? Or, perhaps we are that person. In any case, cultivating the fine art of listening requires will and determination, especially in a culture that is focused on speaking and multitasking. There are executive coaches, for example, who work with business folks to help them become better listeners, and personal coaches and therapists who help individuals and couples communicate more effectively (often how to listen before speaking). We love the Brain Fitness program (about which we have written quite a bit in this blog) for many reasons, not the least of which is that it refines the ability to listen. In fact, because the program uses many unusual techniques, such as, distorting sound through a synthesizer, you must pay close attention and focus on the sounds in order to correctly complete many of the exercises.

One of our customers who has taken the program several times (a bonus of purchasing this software which adapts to your own progress instead of creating a game-like goal to achieve) reports that his ability to be in a room with a number of people and focus on the conversation he shares with one or two others has improved considerably with this program. He also learned that he has a slight hearing impairment for certain sounds and tones through this program. He visited an audiologist who has helped him identify where the problems are and he is in the process of correcting them. Even his wife raves how much of a better listener he now is!

It is important to have hearing tested professionally by an audiologist to determine the type and severity of hearing loss. This process ensures that you will get the right hearing devices, if you should need them. We are pleased to work with a number of fine organizations throughout Colorado who provide hearing tests and solutions. In fact, if you are in the Denver area on June 16, make an appointment to come to the store and meet the folks from the Family Hearing Centers. They come monthly to clean hearing aids (and take out wax build-up from your ears if need be) and discuss your particular hearing issues. Stop by and learn more. And, certainly, do not hesitate to contact us for more details on products and options to assist with hearing impairments.

We also have Dale Dodds on our staff. Dale knows sign language and helps customers maneuver through the many options in our store. His background includes having worked with vocational rehab organizations in several states, so he knows his way around products as well. If you are in the Denver area, stop by our flagship store and “chat” with Dale a bit.

Do you have something to share with us and others about hearing and listening? We hope you will post a comment here. It’s your chance to spread your wisdom, humor or a good story.

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