May is regarded as Speech & Hearing Month. It is a month dedicated to the promotion of communication and hearing disorders, as well as the role of medical professions providing treatment.
This year's theme is “Communication Across the Lifespan” and is directed at promoting good communication and awareness between generations. Auditory issues, contrary to popular opinion, do not just occur in just elderly persons; anyone of any age can be affected. In this instance, we wanted to talk to a hearing professional to learn more about hearing disorders and auditory health. Below is our interview with Doctor of Audiology, Sean Lennox.
Dr. Lennox is a practicing Audiologist at the Robillard Hearing Centres in Ottawa, Canada. It was a fantastic opportunity to ask a professional about the auditory problems each generation faces, and to dispel any false sense of security that prevent many from improving their auditory health.
Take a look at our full interview with Dr. Lennox below.
Ai: For how long have you been a Doctor of Audiology, when did you first start working in this field?
Dr. Lennox: "I have been an Au.D. for seven years and worked as an audiologist for three years before that, for a total of 10 years. I received my MSc. from UBC and my AuD. from Florida."
Ai: Are there particular areas of audiology that interest you?
Dr. Lennox: "Clinical and dispensing audiology for all ages, as well as tinnitus and balance and vestibular assessment. I have published articles in Canadian audiology journals on balance disorders and ageing, Alport syndrome, acoustic shock disorder, multiple sclerosis and HL."
Ai: What was it about audiology and the study of hearing that drew you to this career?
Dr. Lennox: "I found neuroscience and the processes of sensation and perception fascinating from a very young age. I didn't know I wanted to be an Audiologist until the 2nd year of my BSc. when I began to understand that auditory communication and language is what makes us human. We cannot connect with those around us and build relationships without the ability to hear.
"I love working with patients one-on-one helping them solve a significant challenge in their lives by matching their listening needs to the benefits available in hearing technology."
Ai: Why Robillard? What do you like the most about working there?
Dr. Lennox: "Robillard Hearing Centres is a well-known and widely respected clinic for audiologists to practice in Ontario. It is an independent clinic which provides patients with a tailored and personalized approach in helping them find the best option.
"There is a full range of products for us to offer patients and latitude to go the extra mile to make sure the patient has the best possible experience whether it is their first set or 10th set of hearing aids."
Ai: As an audiologist, you get to interact with a lot of interesting people. How do patients who have lost their hearing adapt to communication without hearing?
Dr. Lennox: "Patients usually start 'adapting' by speech reading and using visual cues to understand when they have hearing loss. This takes a great deal of effort straining to use limited information to hear, and this leads to stress-related muscle tension in the neck and back as well as headaches in some cases. Patients may also engage in bluffing as well as mirroring to try to cope. Bluffing is when the patient attempts to guess their way through situations and puts on a facade that they can hear and understand. This often falls apart quite quickly when they engage with a speaker with a very soft voice and few visual cues. Mirroring is a form of bluffing where the patient will look at others and mimicking their responses in social interactions."
Patients will sometimes start to dominate conversations in hopes of controlling the context. This leads to others feeling dominated and unheard which is not an effective strategy.
"The most common adaptation is isolation from social interaction. Unfortunately, most people with HL do this to protect themselves from embarrassment or a feeling of inadequacy. Social isolation is bad for both the patient's psycho-social well-being as well as their mental well-being. HL and social isolation limit the brain's activation from auditory stimuli leading to what is known as auditory deprivation. Our auditory brain requires stimulation to be maintained. HL and social isolation will cause our brains to become less effective at processing auditory information."
Ai: With many of us often exposed to damaging levels of noise, who today is most at risk of hearing loss/poor hearing health? Why?
Dr. Lennox: "I know it is a wide range, but Millennials and Generation Z would be at the greatest risk in my opinion. These are generations of constant streaming and being plugged in, leading to more significant auditory risks. Hearing loss prevention is a topic that needs to be discussed with all school-aged children as part of personal health and well-being, and this will lead to better decision-making regarding listening to inputs too loudly. The most critical piece of information is that hearing is a gift, and once it is gone, it is gone forever."
Ai: How do we distinguish damaged hearing health, from a healthy state of hearing health? What are the signs/symptoms that something is wrong?
Dr. Lennox: "HL is gradual and insidious, often leading the person with HL to react indifferently or even deny an issue is forming. People with hearing loss are usually the last to know they have a problem. People around them tend to notice first. It typically starts with the need for further repetition often, then inattention, agitation (tension and stress of listening), and then social isolation. More often than not the person with HL will try to cope using the ineffective strategies listed above, and then make their way into a hearing clinic only after several frustrating instances where they have been embarrassed or lacked confidence."
Ai: In your professional opinion, what is the greatest threat to average hearing health today? Loud music? Poor hygiene? Stress?
Dr. Lennox: "The greatest threat is denial. People are waiting far too long to do something about their hearing loss than is optimal for their brain health. Some people wait as long as seven years to receive hearing help through amplification because of pride, stigma (don't want to feel old), or fear of the unknown. If you have HL, it is essential you begin stimulating your auditory system in a 'normal' way to maintain and maximize your brain's ability to process sound. Remember, if you don't use your hearing, you will end up losing your hearing. If you are unsure if you have HL consult a hearing healthcare professional, but even before that simply ask your friends and family how you are doing. They are usually the first to notice."
— Sean Lennox, Doctor of Audiology, Robillard Hearing Centres
If you have any concerns of your own auditory health, check out the Robillard Hearing Centre website and take their free online test.