creating a new social norm for hearing care
You are here:Home»Articles»Curtis Alcock

Our hearing feeds directly into our emotions. A single word can dramatically alter our mood. Watch a film with the music turned off, and it loses its power to engage: the suspense evaporates; the 'tear-jerking' scenes dry up.

Human hearing is more capable than any mammal's, other than the bat, of distinguishing differences in pitch, and a trained musician is even able to detect a difference in vibration of one millionth of a second.

Whether or not its primary purpose, we certainly use this capability to enjoy music.

Our brains respond to the human voice more than to any other sound. Even the physiology of our ear canals naturally enhance specific frequencies important to speech understanding. It's as if our hearing was made for interaction with other humans.

It has been shown that we speak on average around 16,000 words a day. It would be difficult to estimate how many words we actually hear during the course of the day, because we would need to take into consideration the conversations we're involved in, the conversations we overhear, and the ones we're exposed to from the radio or television.

Hearing plays a key role in our awareness and safety and has some key advantages over our sense of vision. It has the effect of connecting us to and integrating us with our enviornment so that we become one with it.

Unlike our eyesight, which is forward-facing, our hearing operates in all directions. We use subtle comparisons between both ears that enables us to:

If we want to modernise public attitudes towards hearing care, we must first understand the purpose of our own hearing instead of simply taking it for granted.

It is through an intimate understanding and appreciation of what our hearing does for us – on a personal level and within society – that we gain respect for our sense of hearing. Only by having such respect ourselves can we can hope to instil the same in others.

Hearing is undoubtedly one of our primary senses, yet just how important it is to us is often difficult to appreciate because for most people it's so tightly integrated with their daily existence that they have no way of comparing what life would be like without it.

In fact, ask most people which their most important sense is and they will usually say eyesight. But is the way they are making this judgment based on a like for like comparison?

Portrait of Helen KellerHelen Keller (1880 to 1968), the American author, political activist and lecturer, was both blind and deaf. She was therefore in the rare position of being able to compare the effect of loss of both senses on her own experience and provide us with some valuable insight which will help us determine how important the sense of hearing is.

Indeed Helen Keller wrote the following:

The impact of a reduction in hearing on the individual varies from person to person. Some of the effects of subtle; the others are more noticeable.

The reduction in hearing also impacts on the people who interact with them, which creates other dynamics which also then have an impact on the individual.

For example, if somebody becomes impatient, even cross, with the individual's inabilty to hear first time, then their reaction will also impact on the individual.

The effect of reduced hearing falls into three categories:

  • The effect on the individual with the reduced hearing.
  • The effect on those who interact with the individual with reduced hearability.
  • The effect on the attitudes of wider society.

There are many different ways we could define reduced hearing, but the most sensible way is to define it in relation to the “Long Term Average Speech Spectrum”, perhaps using the “Articulation Index”. The reason for proposing these as our definition of reduced hearing is that they:

  • Directly relate to speech, and their impact on speech.
  • They are easy to understand for the lay person.

For those unfamiliar with these terms, it may be helpful to provide a brief explanation which can be found below.

There are approximately 62 million people living in the UK, most of whom have hearing – so hearing care should be relevant to the vast majority. However, the current emphasis on "the fitting of hearing aids", renders it immediately irrelevant to over 85% of the population.

This perceived irrelevance leads to other problems, which is discussed in this article.

As has been explained in Hearing Care: The Past, hearing care as a profession is in its infancy. So it is perhaps not surprising to still be seeing an emphasis on “the fitting of hearing aids” when looking at the offering of hearing care providers in the UK.

This can be seen in the following examples:

Page 7 of 8