It’s funny the things you remember from childhood. When I was six or seven I remember receiving a Christmas present called ‘The Book of Knowledge’. This book had a fantastic section that described how different parts of the body worked using pictures of crazy machine type contraptions to illustrate the mechanics. It also had little experiments that the reader could try.
The section on hearing described a test you could do where you needed to turn on the radio, close both eyes, cover one ear and then try to locate the radio by sound alone. I was amazed at how difficult this was to do and while at the time I didn’t understand why it was so hard, it was something that always stayed with me.
It’s ironic that some 10 or so years later, my hearing deteriorated to the point that I fully understood the real-life challenges that this childhood experiment was implying.
Few people can fully understand just what it means to have a hearing loss. Many people think that it just means sounds are not as loud anymore and while this is factually true, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Hearing loss is not only about volume of sounds. Ask anyone who has a hearing loss about the biggest challenge they face and they will tell you that it’s mainly about clarity of speech, especially when there are competing sounds. They might tell you that sounds quickly go from being too soft to hear to painfully loud and they might also tell you that they have poor sound localisation.
Sound localisation is our ability to locate something based on the direction its sound is coming from. It’s what allows us to identify that unseen train approaching to our right or to tell that there is dog barking behind us. Without good sound localisation, we might hear the train but not know where it is or we might frantically be looking around for the barking dog. It was sound localisation which my childhood ‘Book of Knowledge’ had taught me about, though I didn’t know it at the time.
What does poor sound localisation mean to someone with a hearing loss?
Quite simply it means that without visual cues; if we’re unable to see you if you’re calling us, it’s highly likely that we have no idea where you are or that you are even there.
It also means that if we ask you where you are and you reply with something generic like ‘I’m over here’ you might as well be saying you’re on the moon because we have about as much chance of finding you.
So, if you’re dealing with someone with a hearing loss and you need them to come to you or if they ask you where you are, rather than using words like ‘here’ or ‘there’ try using the name of the location itself. “Can you come to the kitchen?” is going to be much more helpful for someone with a hearing loss than ‘Can you come here?’
Daniel Pistritto is an audiometrist at Blamey Saunders hears.