The brain is an amazing thing (even old brains). Mine is getting very used to the sounds (signals) coming in from my audio nerves, even though the normal (with hearing aid) ear sends in signals very different from the cochlear implant ear.
I am taking off my "good ear" hearing aid for about an hour a day, to just hear only the sounds from the implant ear. Very different, very weird, but understandable if I concentrate. And together, both ears are doing really well. The normal ear sounds "natural" but it's missing the higher frequencies; the cochlear ear sounds very mechanical robotic, but accurately picks up the higher frequencies. The brain combines them, and it's kind of amazing how well it does.
I have to comment: I have "post linqual" deafness, which means that I knew words and the language very well before I went deaf. This is a big factor in how fast I am adjusting to recognizing words with an implant. I already know what to listen for, when people speak.
Word recognition is very good, but noise recognition ("what is making that noise?") is still really bad. I cannot tell what is making the noises I hear. The implant is very sensitive to picking up sounds (MUCH more than I had expected), but all noises still sound the same (chirps, squeaks, clangs, chimes, beeps). They say this will get better over time. I hope so.
Went to show off my implant to the wonderful audiologist who started me down this path, 2 or 3 years back. "Sometimes you have to take a 'leap of faith' to get where you need to go", she says. I agree. (Actually I think that Thomas Aquinas said that 500 years ago, but for 'blogging purposes, I will credit it to Dayna.)
Anyway, she is modifying both the mold and the wire of that hearing aid to fit into my ear better, and it should help with how my own voice sounds in that ear. We are definitely fine-tuning things at this point.
What music sounds like through the implant is a real tragedy, and I don't see any future solution to this problem.
Listening to music with both ears (one hearing aid, one implant) through my basement stereo system, all I hear are the base notes (I mean the REALLY low thumpings) and everything else sounds like ukeleles. Ironically, I do have one CD where a uke is the lead instrument (with bass and drums behind it), and it sounds very much like it should. That one CD is enjoyable. But all other music sounds awful this way.
To listen to music, I remove my hearing aid and use ambient-sound-deadening headphones (just the one side of the headphones for that ear). That is still a pleasure, but of course it's monaural.
We did a soundbooth hearing test today. Listened to beeps of various frequencies and loudness, single words (male and female voices), complete sentences (with and without background noise). I scored 35% - 50% for the word tests; those are up from ZERO before the implant, and the doctor was happy with these results at only one month.
I don't feel the tests are a very accurate quantificaton of my actual experience. In reality (around the house), my word recognition is enormously improved from before the implant; my participation in normal room conversations is greatly improved. I would call it 1000X better than before; so I don't quite buy the low test scores. I explained this and we discussed why this may be so.
They tweaked the programs in my implant, and even gave me one designed for music. I haven't tried this out at home yet, and I don't have a lot of hope, but then again, we are only into this for one month now.
I am scrounging around on-line for hearing exercises, and for good computer speakers, but this may get into Pandora's box - is my little netbook sound card capable of driving good speakers to replicate high quality sound???
I went to the library and got a few audio book DVD's to play on my basement stereo system. One is playing now, and I hear it perfectly well, word for word. I expected to be struggling with this for weeks, as I expected it to sound horrible - like the tests we did yesterday. But in terms of word recognition it sounds just fine. I don't mean it sounds like normal hearing (it's still mechanical and robotic and noisy), but I understand virtually everything that is spoken on the DVD at a normal speech rate. (And I am not reading lips in this case!!) Keep in mind that the basement has no background noise, as you have in a restaurant or at a party. And again, around the house, having a one-on-one conversation is easy and about 1000X better than it was before.
I still cannot understand people who talk much faster than normal. Probably never will. It's partly my "old man" attitude - I say "slow down or shut up".
Making continuous but slower progress with hearing / interpreting through the implant. For normal conversation in a quiet room, it is just fabulous. Even in a car that I am driving, listening to the front passenger (my implant is on the right side). The electronics have some kind of a white noise reduction feature, that mutes wind and driving noises somewhat. This helps enormously. I don't have to turn to the passenger (to read lips) and she doesn't have to turn toward me.
This week I focused on my left (hearing aid) ear. The "other" audiologist made a new ear mold that fits better, and she boosted the amplitude of the lower frequencies (250Hz is the lowest the hearing aid can go). This had a very good effect on the combined sounds that I hear from both sides now. I haven't heard this well in 30 years !
Listening to the TV through it's own speakers is greatly improved from before these "fixes". Although it is still not great.
It's all kind of strange. I can hear the keyboard clicks of my wife texting on her cell phone two rooms away! But still do not understand every word spoken to me. I still read lips a bit and infer the words, based on the topic. (see below).
This is a fascinating topic that hearing people never think about.
Did I hear "blue" or "glue" ? .... well what your brain does without thinking about it is it decides what the word was based on what you were talking about. If you asked someone "What is your favorite color?" and you hear "_lue", your brain automatically fills in the "b" for you. This is how ventriloquists can talk without moving their lips, yet you think they are saying all the correct letters - they are not. They substitute "g" for "b" and "n" for "m", etc etc because (1) they wont have to move their lips and (2) your brain will fill in the correct letter, based on what it thinks the dummy is saying. The ventriloquist says "Klease nove gack" but your hear "Please move back" because that's what fits the conversation.
Deaf people have to do this very much more and much faster than hearing people, because we hear so many more garbled letters.
Is't knid of wierd hwo yuor brian wroks.
Very cool stuff.
There are two batteries in the processor, and it eats batteries at the rate of 2 batteries every 2 days. So, if I live another 10 years, the processor is going to use up 3650 batteries. They gave me two boxes of batteries, but they are going fast.
I was recently told that what eats up the batteries is the power needed to transmit the signal through my hair and skin. So .... next week I am shaving a small circular spot on my head to hopefully use less power. Not sure how much of a difference that will make, but it's worth a try. I must have thick skin because the holding magnet had to be the strongest one they make, so I have a battery drain problem because my skin & hair are too thick.
There are other designs with rechargeable batteries that sit in an additional unit behind your ear. I opted for this newest streamline design.
Trying to listen to a land-line phone recever is basically impossible on the implant side or hearing aid side. Removing the hearing aid can sometimes work if the person voice is clear and the line quality is good, but that's hit or miss.
Turning the land-line phone speaker on and holding it away from my head is do-able, but I can miss a lot of words and the conversation easily gets to be a problem, and I generally hate it. "Hi Mr. Leo"..... "Did you say Hi Mr. Leo?" .... "Yes" .... "Oh, Hi".
Cell phone is worse. Texting to my cell phone is the only possible option, and it's my favorite !
My talking-on-the-phone option is still the captioned phone that I have in the basement. Most people (on the other end) get used to it pretty quickly once I explain why there is this 6-7 second lag before I respond each time. Most people talk slower and clearer when I tell them, and I can sometimes understand them before the captioning is finished - by the way, the captioning makes mistakes, just like TV closed captions, and that really screws things up. Happily that's not too often.
This was the "3-month" exam. They did tests: (1) beeps, (2) single words with no background noise, (3) sentences with no background noise and (4) sentences with background noise.
My test results: (1) I didn't ask; (2) zero words understood; (3) all sentences understood; (4) zero sentences understood.
We talked a lot about this. I told them again that my every day conversational hearing is wonderful. In a quite room, I have no problems talking / listening to conversations. Noisy room are a lot harder (better than before, but still very hard for the noise.)
I told the audiologist the volume (loudness) of the impant was too loud. I keep it on the lowest possible loudness and wish it was lower. We talked and talked this over and over in light of today's test results. She ended up actually increasing the volume and making me promise to keep it at "level 6" and never go lower than "level 4". I reluctantly agreed. She also tweaked the 4 programs in the implant for lower frequencies, background noise and some other magical stuff, and gave me this card for my wallet. I promised to do as told, but I was (am) skeptical; she was (is) confident that it will help.
We talked about how my brain must continue to get used to (what I consider) "loud annoying sounds". She says "the world is a noisy place"; (but I am used to a very very quiet world). I talked about "signal to noise ratio" she talked about me doing what she tells me to do, so okay let's go her way I figure.
Today I have it set at "Scan / level 6". My voice sounds like God's voice in the CB Demille Bible movies.
Listen .... here is an observation I just made and a theory about implants, noise and spoken words.....
When I speak normally in the kitchen, my voice is *very* loud to me. Annoyingly so.
I just ran the food processor (it's like a blender" and it makes an awful loud noise).
While it was running I spoke some sentences in my normal voice.
I did not hear my voice at all. Not at all.
So .... the very noisy food processor, when heard though the implant, virtually erased my voice. It did not add noise on top of my voice. My voice was gone. Zero. I did this several times.
THAT is why I cannot understand words when there is background noise.... the background noise (through the processor) did not ADD on top of my voice, and it did not "drown out" my voice. The background noise was just about as loud as my voice alone sounds to me. It should have added on top of my voice and I should have heard both VERY VERY loud. But that is what not happened - the implant processor effectively erased my voice and the only signal I got was the food processor at it's normal loudness.
It's like instead of filtering out the background noise, it filtered out my voice ????
If this is how the processor works, I will never hear words in a noisy background.
I am going to leave my confused last paragraphs as they are written there. Truth is that my cochlear audiologist responded to this and her response is complex and detailed, and I don't understand all of it right now, but I hope to some day downstream.
I do think it's important for me to record my observations, confusions and questions here - we implant patients have entered a whole new strange world of sounds and mixes of sounds. It takes time for our brains to re-learn hearing things and why sounds don't add to each other, but they mask over each other.
People with normal hearing don't have to think about sounds, but we "deafies" have to throw a bunch of brain time into interpreting what we hear.
It goes along with the observation that everyone thinks a cochlear implant "restores normal hearing" -- oh sure it does -- like giving a blind person a white cane restores their sight !!
So let me leave this topic here, and come back when I understand the answers.
The external sound processor is the button-like gizmo you see on the right. There is a magnet inside it that "sucks" onto a magnet that is inside the electronics under the skin. There is no connector that sticks out of my head; the external gizmo just pops off when you pull on it.
There are several strengths of magnets that can be used, depending on how thick your skin and underlying tissue is in your head. I have to use the 2nd strongest magnet availaible (I have a thick skull ??!!).
Several times, I have knocked the processor off my head by accident (scratching my head, using a hat, snagging the safety thread). Very smart to use the safety thread & clip attachment.
A few times, the processor has been sucked off my head by a metal car door frame and a window frame (porch storm window while I was pulling the screen up). It once got sucked off onto a metal post that I leaned against. This can be startling (you go instantly deaf again!), and if you're not careful and you move, it could pull the safety clip off your collar (this has not yet happened to me)
On the good side: the processor has fallen off my head onto a hard wood floor twice since I have it. No damage at all - still works fine.
I tried the TV bluetooth (TV-direct-to-implant) gizmo when I first got the implant. I felt it was useless at that point. Sounded like noisy garbage. This week decided to check it out again. I figured that I have since gotten used to the robotic mechanical implant sounds, so maybe I can use this thing. (This is 4 months after "turn-on".)
I was right - I find it much more useful now. I am not shy about turning up the volume (TV and implant processor) more than I did before, and I "understand" the voices better at this point, so much of the spoken dialog is clearer. I actually turn off the "annoying" closed captions now when I use it. Background music is still very annoying as I cannot "hear through it" to get to words being spoken. Background TV music is just useless annoying noise to me.
It took a few months of implant experience for me to warm up to the bluetooth TV gizmo. Now I use it whenever I watch TV or DVD movies. It works for streaming channels also, like Netflix, Amazon, etc.
Well, it's late August (implant was turned on in late February) and things are going very well for word recognition and normal conversation. No big changes, just getting slightly better and better, slowly, subconsciously. Identifying noises is still nearly impossible - everything sounds like slight variations of a bunch of chirps, clangs, squeeks so it's hard recognize what the sound is coming from. About 50% of the time I can identify the hiss of wind and blowing air (like a fan) and also electric motor whirring, and the cats' meows, floor squeeks and water out of a faucet. But that means that 50% of the time I cannot identify those sounds. I actually don't think that will ever get better.
Music is an ongoing tragedy. Music sounds like a band of ukuleles, banging sticks, whistles, tweets. Using a headphone on my other ear (hearing aid removed) sounds 100000X better than the implant ear. I don't think the necessary technology (for music through an implant) will get better in my lifetime.
The implant eats up two batteries every 2 days. This goes for both processors (they gave me a backup processor). According to Dr. S they should be lasting 4 days - but that is definitely not happening. I went through all the batteries she gave me back in February and bought another 3 boxes. I never got it clear about what the actual cost is because I have Medicare plus supplemental insurance so what I paid out of pocket coud be just a small part of the price. This bothers me enormously - I mean the ecological mess of trashing batteries every day like this for the rest on my life. But ..... I have no options, and I'm very glad to hear again.
My word and sentence recognition test scores, and my sound recognition, went up considerably, even though I don't notice any difference in everyday life. I still don't get the test data, but it doesn't matter to me because, in reality, I am very happy with this implant. I am now at the point that the perfect silence when I take it off makes me nervous, whereas I used to like the quiet.
The brain is an amazing thing. It is continually, automatically reprogramming itself to better understand the world around it. And it changes its own programming, as needed, when the input (like from your ears) changes.
I have tried several ways to attach a safety thread to the Cochlear processor, to catch it when it gets knocked off (which it does because I am not too careful). Today I came up with this. Today I took an old (and now useless) hearing aid, drilled a few holes in it - had to do some supergluing when I cracked it - and did what you see here.
It is working very well. I am sure the Cochlear design guys could make a more elegant version of this. In fact I'll probably have my hearing aid audiologist (that's my other ear) make a new casting of my ear so I can improve on this.
A burst of curiosity / inspiration hit me and I plugged my cell phone into my computer external speakers, and it is fabulous. Loud and clear !!! I highly recommend anyone who needs better cell phone hearing give this a try. I'd say, even if you don't have computer speakers, drop $30 and buy a pair to try this out - must be speakers that you power from a wall outlet.
I also have a captioned land-line phone and a bluetooth gizmo into my cochlear implant processor, and this speaker setup is much better than both of those.
Obviously this is only for at-home phone calls, but come to think of it, maybe a car setup would also work (?)
NOTE: you don't need a computer. Just get an inexpensive pair of speakers (BestBuy, Ebay, wherever). The computer is not involved in this. You can put the speakers anywhere in the house.
Like they say "your mileage may vary". but this is how much I personally need to spend on batteries. I eat up 2 batteries every 2 days. This is maybe only half the life that other people are experiencing, but I have a year's worth of experience and what I said is true for me.
I just got 180 batteries and the billing price is $108. That's 60¢ / battery = 60¢ / day at the rate I am using them up.
My insurance pays almost all of that (I will update this comment when I get their final billing).