There I was, sitting in my kitchen, listening to an unrecognizable sound.

“What is it?” I asked my husband quizzically.

“It’s the oven fan,” he replied.

It was surreal. I was being immersed in sounds I had never heard. It was as if some sort of hearing miracle had occurred. We had installed the oven two years ago, and this was the first time I was aware that the fan whirred.

What caused this change in my profound hearing loss? A while back, my audiologist told me that hearing aid manufacturers were beginning to use artificial intelligence technology in hearing aids and cochlear implants. This is the same technology used in robotics, advanced navigation systems, and in medical/surgical applications. The use of A.I. in hearing aids is considered a huge advancement and on the same level as the emergence of digital aids in the mid-1990s.

Versions of artificial intelligence are available in a variety of aids manufactured by all the major hearing aid companies. A.I. platforms give audiologists more flexibility with fittings. My audiologist was able to take the high-pitched sounds (consonants and soft environmental sounds) that I don’t hear and integrate them with the lower pitched sounds (vowels and deep environmental sounds) that I do hear.

As I move from place to place, the omnidirectional microphones on my new aids scan the area three hundred and sixty degrees, recognizing the type, source, and loudness of sound. For instance, in noise, these processors can distinguish sound direction and determine din from human voices. They can also pick up the pitch, loudness or softness of whomever is speaking and adjust accordingly.

While I’m only at the beginning of my six week trial, I’m noticing I can hear with more clarity. My husband has noticed that he doesn’t have to raise his voice to speak to me. There has been an improvement in my ability to understand conversation in general, and I’m hearing women’s voices better. I can carry on phone conversations with ease. Perhaps I’ll fall in love with my phone again. I hear music crisply and clearly. Along with the oven fan, I can hear the click of my computer’s keyboard, the swish of water running, and the ding, telling me my dryer cycle has ended.

Noisy environments are still a problem for me, and my audiologist tells me he can correct my issues with adjustments. When out in a restaurant the other night, I was able to hear the person seated on my right and left more intelligibly. I’m told that because of my profound hearing loss, it might be necessary for me to use a mini microphone. I will be testing one soon.

I’m feeling very positive about my new aids. The addition of artificial intelligence applications will improve with time and create new hearing opportunities for people with all types of hearing loss. Scientists and medical experts are discovering that we hear with our brains. I wonder if there will be a day when A.I. can by-pass a damaged cochlea and carry sound directly to our brains. If that happens, all who suffer from hearing loss will have an easier time meandering through the hearing world.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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