Music Not so Good so far

I wanted to add a post about how music is for me because this question comes up a lot.  Both from people just curious about the implant and candidates who are wondering what may lie ahead for them.

Prior to my implant I had 20-30% hearing in both ears, mainly in the lower ranges including, thankfully, a usable amount in the frequencies most common for speech.  I could enjoy music, the beat, the quality of certain voices, melody.  I couldn’t understand most lyrics and tended to prefer simpler music featuring a solo singer or melodic instrumentals.  I loved dance music, 70’s and 80’s pop, disco…

When I was doing my own research on CI’s and music, I was told that music appreciation with an implant can vary quite a bit.  Some implant recipients say it’s great and some say it’s terrible.  My older brother who had a similar hearing history as me, has not had good luck with music.

With my implant, so far, there are some things that sound “okay” such as Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” with a simple bass line beat.  (Sadly, I can’t say I care for that song very much.)  Most music sounds pretty bad to me.  I do not yet have any programs on my processor that are optimized for music so my guess is that music is being treated like speech and that just makes it sound weird because it’s not.  Certain elements in the music are accentuated and the melody and subtleties get lost.  I’ve been experimenting with different songs on my iPod and I’ve yet to figure out why certain music sounds better or worse.

I’ve talked to some implant users who say they are loving music again.  More often it seems that older familiar music sounds best to them.  In some cases, I think it’s individuals who lost hearing suddenly and have good, complete music memories ready to be reactivated.  It’s definitely somewhat of mystery though and there is much discussion and some research going on in the CI community.  Recently I saw Dr. Charles Limb speak at the Hearing Loss Association of America conference in Rhode Island.  He’s a musician, avid music fan, and a CI surgeon.  He’s also doing research on music appreciation for cochlear implant users and there’s an interesting TED talk where he discusses his work and research:: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle.html  One funny moment at the conference was when he played sound files to simulate what music can sound like via a cochlear implant.  Funny because there were many CI users in the audience so how could they really evaluate?  He realized the dilemma and was a good sport about acknowledging the irony 😉

There are some aural rehab tools out there via the cochlear implant manufacturers websites.  I haven’t explored these in detail yet.  One that I’m aware of is called Hope Notes, by Cochlear America.

I hope I don’t discourage any candidates who may read this.  First of all, everyone’s experience is different.  There are so many factors that come into play.  The top priority for cochlear implant technology has been speech recognition and while I’d like music to be better speech is the most important thing for me.  Secondly, I ain’t done yet.  My journey is still in progress and my hearing is will continue to evolve, including my experience with music.  Stay tuned…

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My CI goes to the beach :-)

Portrait shot Barbara wearing Neptune processor on beach

First summer beach vacation with my cochlear implant.  I’m so happy to have the waterproof Neptune processor because I don’t have to worry about protecting my new equipment from the elements.  I even took a quick dip in the ocean with it on!  Although it’s not officially rated for salt water.  However, it continues to function so I don’t think any harm was done.  And I’m loving the off the ear design in hot sticky weather.  Much more comfortable I think.

Aside from the equipment itself, what’s different now?

  • The soft sand makes noise as I walk through it.
  • The sound of the waves is SO much louder than I knew!
  • I can hear the sounds of voices across the Provincetown Bay tidal flats.  I can’t understand what they’re saying but I am reminded that I’m not alone.
  • The beach umbrella flapping in a strong wind is loud.
  • Riding bikes with my sister I can hear what she’s saying, as she rides in front of me.  Sometimes.  This is an improvement.
  • I’m starting to hear differences in bird calls.  My sister points out the distinctive call of the cardinal.  Pretty cool.
  • I hear the sounds of gray seals just off shore at a National Seashore spot in Truro.  They sound funny.
Barb standing in front of Dunes at Truro

Barb in front of the Dunes at Truro

Audiologist and speech language pathologist – 3 months out

Back to Mass Eye and Ear for my 3 month post activation follow up.  Go through the paces.  Testing, tears and mapping (device programming).  I’m doing well.  Better than your average implant recipient.  My ability to detect different sounds is at the mild hearing loss level.  Unbelievable right?  My whole word recognition score has gone from 55% to 66%.  So why the tears?  I continue to want to fly wildly down the black diamond ski trails but I’m still working my way off the bunny slope.  It’s normal.  I still to struggle with hearing challenges such as soft spoken people, group situations, and background noise.

I’m told to focus on my what I can do versus what I can’t.  This is good advice and I really do want to listen to it.

The following day I finally have my appointment with a speech language pathologist.  It’s part of the standard set of follow up appointments for new cochlear implant users at MEEI.  I honestly have no idea what a speech language pathologist does but I’m hoping she can offer some advice on rehab activities that would be good for me.  I was so impressed with this woman.  First of all she was a very caring and sympathetic listener.  After I vented about some of my frustrations she commented, “Sounds like you tend to be hard on yourself”. Uhm, yeah, that’s true.  She did some basic testing to get a sense of how much I could understand without lip reading.  She started with some sets of words, then sentences, then some unstructured conversation.  I did well.

She also asked me questions that I’ve never been asked before.  Some really basic stuff like, “When did you first notice your hearing was causing you difficulty?  As a child?  In high school?” , “Do you think you always had some hearing loss?”, “Do you feel comfortable asking for help to hear others better?”

She touched on the strategies I already use to make my hearing loss known and give others tips to communicate better with me, such as face me, don’t cover your mouth, slow down a little, etc., etc.  I said I was hoping I could put some of these tools away now that I have a CI.  Maybe eventually, in some situations, but I will never have “normal” hearing and I need to accept that.

The speech pathologist also pointed out that the effort for successful communication does not rest solely on my shoulders.  It is a shared experience and others can and will help me, if I tell them what to do.  Maybe I sound like a dum-dum but this was revelatory for me.  No one has ever talked to me about my hearing in this way before.  I realized just how alone I’ve felt in dealing with the challenges of living with severe hearing loss.  And a lot this starts with me, thinking I’m supposed to handle it on my own.  Where do I get these ideas?