March 20, 2018
When I was little, there was a short VHS series called Quigley’s Village. I had two of the four movies and I watched them so many times I ruined the tape. There was one episode that focused on a concept that blew my mind then and is still with me even now: the difference between hearing and listening.
We hear quite a lot of what goes on around us, even when we’re asleep. Every sound that is produced within our hearing range is picked up and processed by the brain to be categorized as unimportant, interesting, or vital. When we develop a hearing loss, our brains begin to slowly filter out the sounds it struggles to hear as “uninteresting or unimportant.” Unfortunately, conversational speech is something we can classify as any of those options, leading to miscommunication or feelings of being ignored.
As our brains develop, they learn to pay attention to certain sounds and to ignore others. It’s the reason I am able to carry on a phone call without being distracted by people talking around me. It’s the reason parents are able to sleep through a television show but wake up at the whimper of their child. “Attention” is the key to listening.
When we put on a pair of hearing aids, we are typically able to hear again fairly well (individual results may vary). The next step that very few people talk about is learning how to listen again. You will probably be overwhelmed by the sound input you’re getting as your brain is not used to receiving so many sound signals at once. As you get used to it, however, you will learn to recategorize all those “new” sounds and be able to pay attention only to the “interesting” or “vital” sounds and ignore what is “unimportant,” just like you used to.
It is important to remember that this process of recategorization takes time, patience, and tenacity on the part of the wearer. Hearing aids need to be worn in all listening situations in order for the brain to have the time and sound input it needs in order to learn to listen again.
Fun Random Fact: The roars in the Lion King movie were not actually made by lions! Lions do not have the strength to roar that powerfully, so the sound guy at Disney mashed recordings of tigers roaring with the sound of himself roaring into a trashcan. That’s right; Simba’s roar was made by a man named Frank with a trashcan.