When I got my second cochlear implant (CI) several years ago, my audiologist enthusiastically suggested getting one made by a different manufacturer than the one in my other ear.
Twenty years ago, I would have been game to try a new company. Back then I was keen on learning all about the technology and trying all the latest bells and whistles.
But I was getting older. Just as lip-reading had become more difficult as I aged prior to getting my first CI, aging would now pose challenges if I had to deal with two different makes of device. Two different programming methods, two different kinds of batteries, two different kinds of cables, and so forth. No, I decided, I would try to keep my life simple.
For me, aging means hearing better
I certainly don’t regret that decision. As I get older, I value simplicity and avoid complexity, and I think many older CI users feel the same way.
And with my long experience with CIs (almost 30 years), I realize that although biology and technology might set the groundwork for success with the devices, it is elapsed time using them that can move the ceiling up and up.
With time, my hearing with my CI has become so good, so comfortable, and so reliable that I can find it difficult to get accommodations for my deafness.
People don’t realize that I’m still deaf and still appreciate accommodations like captioning, even though not as frequently as before.
In a unique position to support my “hearing” peers
In fact, in many cases – especially in noisy environments – I hear better than my “hearing” friends. While my hearing has been improving over time, my friends and family who are aging alongside me are finding that their hearing is in decline. After all, those over 60 face a higher incidence of age-related deafness.
My aging cohort complains about all the things I used to: tinnitus, people talking too fast, social exclusion, difficulty on the telephone. And in some cases, they also have to deal with something I never did: the dread feeling that wearing a hearing aid is a sign of old age.
I try to talk them through those feelings if they have them, and many of my friends now sport hearing aids.
Challenges of aging with hearing loss
But aging with severe hearing loss brings risks too. Older people are more prone to forgetfulness, more prone to accidental falls, and more likely to wind up in hospitals.
I’m aware that without my CI on I am even more prone to those accidents. I’m not only more likely to leave the tap running or ignore a pot burning dry on the stove, but I also have a less acute awareness of where I am in space.
I used to delay turning my implant on in the morning — until I realized that I was dropping things more, making spatial errors, and generally being clumsier. I now try to turn my implant on right away after I wake up.
I’m also aware of my vulnerability in a hospital setting (and remember, seniors consume an inordinate share of medical and hospital services). Masks may protect me from viruses and germs, but they can also complicate communication, even with my CI on.
To compensate, I’ve tech’ed myself up with speech recognition technology on my mobile phone — and I make sure it’s always with me.
Aging with hearing loss and cochlear implants brings challenges but cause for optimism too. May my hearing ceiling continue to rise over time, thanks to my CIs!
Beverly Biderman is the author of the award-winning memoir of growing up deaf and learning to hear with a cochlear implant, Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing (rev. 2016). It was named an American Libraries Outstanding Title, and a Globe and Mail Notable Book. Oliver Sacks called it “delightful, sometimes terrifying, often funny and poignant.” She lives in Toronto and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking engagements.