There’s “life after deaf” for musicians

Today is World Music Day, a day to celebrate everything that our ears enable us to experience. Neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience. Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory”.

I thought it timely to remind my readers that professional musicians are significantly more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus than we are. But you’re at risk too if you attend their concerts without adequate hearing protection or if you turn the music player up too loud.

It was Marilyn Manson who once said, “Music is the strongest form of magic”. But the magic makers, professional musicians, often pay a price for imparting us with their gift.

Your favourite musician is almost 4 times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than the rest of us.

And professional musicians are 57% more likely to experience tinnitus — a condition that causes frequent ringing or buzzing in the ears.

That’s no surprise when you consider that a concert or symphonic orchestra can easily reach and exceed 120 decibels, and 85 decibels is the peak recommended noise safety level.

What does noise-induced hearing loss sound like?

You might find that everything is too loud, words are distorted, background noise is a problem, and the music you once enjoyed now sounds like discombobulating noise. Depending on the style of music, there are many subtle musical elements that can be missed when you lack a certain hearing range.

It’s no wonder ACDC frontman Brian Johnson was famously replaced by Axel Rose when his hearing became a problem mid 2016.

Take the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl for example. After decades of drumming, strumming and fronting for some of the world’s loudest rock bands, he struggles to hear his wife. Grohl once told an interviewer “Any woman who’s going to date a rock musician has to be prepared to repeat herself every 10 seconds. My wife asks me where we should go for dinner and it sounds like the schoolteacher from Charlie Brown.”

Can you relate?

Dave Grohl candidly discusses his deafness (his left ear is “almost completely gone” and he experiences bouts of tinnitus) but he’s vocally refused to wear hearing protection, because “that’s not rock-n-roll.” I wouldn’t dare ask what he thinks about hearing aids…Thankfully, other well-known musicians show more sense. The Who’s Pete Townsend, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Cream’s Eric Clapton are just a few of the musicians publicly spruiking hearing protection. They impart the wisdom of hindsight to a generation hell-bent on avoiding hearing-saving earplugs while plugging their ears with hearing-damaging earbuds.

So we know that earplugs can prevent hearing loss, but what can musicians do if they’re already left with irreversible damage?

What about hearing aids?

Advances in hearing aid technology mean that musicians who find themselves living in an altered world of sound can continue to make and enjoy music. For those with known or suspected hearing loss due to music, a hearing aid to correct this deficit needs to focus on the high end (treble) over the low end (bass) and be set up individually based on a hearing test or speech test result.

We were honoured to have Bruce Woodley AO from The Seekers take part in our Facett pilot study. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel when he told us, “It’s enabled me to enjoy all the everyday sounds of life again to the fullest, especially music. As a musician, it is important to hear the high frequencies. Facett has restored [them] and enhanced my enjoyment of music once more.”

Like many musicians and music lovers, ballroom dancer Louise Bartlett suspected her hearing loss was caused by overexposure to loud noise over the years. Losing the joy of music was the final straw.

When it came to dancing, Louise was learning new steps but hearing loss was holding her back. “Dance involves the ability to count and move to the beat of the music,” she said.

Louise chose Blamey Saunders hearing aids because they come with IHearYou®, a system which allows her to adjust match her settings to the acoustics of the different venues she performs in, using her smartphone. She said, “I might bring out the bass a little if I need to hear the beat a bit more, and compare it back to the original. I can also adjust the volume, because sometimes the music can blare out of those speakers.”

Louise recently competed at the Blackpool Pro AM (one of the top dancing competitions in the world) wearing Facett.

My tips for music lovers looking for a hearing aid:

  1. Look for brands without Wide Dynamic Range Compression technology.
    Many digital hearing aid users report problems when listening to music, such as squealing feedback and reduced tone quality. This is often because many hearing aids still use what is known as Wide Dynamic Range Compression technology, which compresses all sounds and can result in distorted or unnatural sound quality, especially when listening to music. Conversely, digital hearing aids with Adaptive Dynamic Range Optimisation technology (as used in Cochlear implants and Blamey Saunders hearing aids) only adjust sound levels if they become too loud or soft for a user’s settings, providing maximum comfort and audibility.
  2. The more channels the better.
    The amount of channels in a hearing aid determines the quality of signal processing, just as the number of pixels in a picture determines how clear it appears. More channels mean greater control over sound quality, especially in background noise.
  3. The hearing aid needs to have capacity for high volume and also span a high treble range.
    Many hearing aids will focus on speech at the expense of music. This means they compress or distort loud music sounds – it thinks they are too loud for the user. However, some parts of music are intentionally loud and are meant to be enjoyed.
  4. Find a hearing aid that gives you setting control. 

 

 

Do you think playing or listening to music contributed to your hearing loss? Do you or would you wear hearing aids? How about earplugs?

Share your thoughts and experiences below!

Watch iconic Australian musician James Black discuss his experience with hearing loss, and how Blamey Saunders hears gave him back the sounds he was missing.

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