Who would have thought that a tiny microscopic virus would change our lives so radically! During these past weeks, I’ve rethought grocery shopping, and now, my food is delivered to my door. Instead of gathering with friends for lunch or dinner, I’m seeing them through Facetime. I meet with my volunteer groups using the GoToMeeting App. On Saturday mornings, I participate in Tai Chi using Zoom. I visit my doctors virtually, using telemedicine Apps.

But how do those of us with hearing loss keep in touch with our hearing professionals? Several months ago, I decided to try out a new pair of hearing aids with A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) technology. At the heart of this technology is a built-in algorithm that distinguishes background noises from human speech. Artificial Intelligence utilizes your audiogram to adjust to your personal hearing needs as you move from quiet into noise. All the major hearing aid manufacturers have a version of A.I. built into some of their aids. Cochlear Implant manufacturers are in the process of adapting A.I. to their products.

Anyone who purchases new aids or has a new implant understands the need for multiple fitting sessions. Since hearing is perception and since we have individual lifestyles and hearing needs, it generally takes three months for someone to adapt to an aid and six months to reap the hearing benefits of implants.

I only had two adjustments made to my new hearing aids when the governor of my state issued stay at home orders. Since I am over 65 and in a high risk group, my husband thought that I should discontinue all future audiological appointments until the virus passed. I emailed my audiologist and told him of my decision. Being the great guy that he is, he kept in touch with me, encouraging me to keep wearing my aids, and because I wasn’t going out, he suggested creating background situations using the television or music.

Still this left a gap. How was I to get needed adjustments? Last week, my audiologist contacted me saying he had found a way to tweak my aids remotely. Encouraged by this news, I set a date and time to meet him online and downloaded the needed manufacturer’s free App.

When my appointment date rolled around, my audiologist and I met through the App Facetime style. He explained what he would change and the ramifications to my hearing. He asked me to sit silently until my aids rebooted. When my aids signaled that the session had ended, my audiologist suggested I try out the new settings, using artificially created background noise. We set a future appointment. My audiologist mentioned that most hearing aid and C.I. manufacturers have the ability to modify their products online. Check with your audiologist to see if such a meeting is possible for you.

When our call ended, I couldn’t help think of the many hearing advancements that have come about since I started wearing hearing aids forty years ago. In the early 1980s, aids could only amplify sound. In the 1990s, programmable, digital aids became available, and then twenty years later, we had aids that could pair to smartphones and computers. Now, there is a new generation of aids with artificial intelligence, opening hearing opportunities to those with severe and profound hearing losses. Thanks to my audiologist, my aids can be fine-tuned without getting into my car. As we meander through this ever-changing hearing world, we need to take a moment to be thank all hearing professionals who see to our hearing needs in the midst of a virus that has changed how we live.

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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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