Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reverse Slope Loss

Last fall I found out I have something with a name: reverse slope loss. In all likelihood, I've had this condition all of my life. It means I have hearing loss at the lower end of sound spectrum -- but normal hearing from the mid-range and higher.

My wife said, "Are you deaf?"

"Did you say something?" I asked. I knew that in my childhood I'd been tested and found to have a hearing problem. My father has it. My brother has it. That's all I knew about it.

My wife wanted me to get tested, so I saw a specialist, and he spooked me a little.

He said, "Clearly you have managed to live with this condition, and you have adapted in ways that you are probably unaware of."

Adapted? Was it that bad?

The doctor said, "If I woke up tomorrow with what you've got, I would be very disoriented."

Apparently my hearing loss in the lower sound spectrum is as high as 60 per cent.

Probably I read lips much more than I was ever aware. I hold back in group social situations. I prefer one-on-one interpersonal contact. I turn the TV up too loud. You don't want to hear me sing. My piano teacher was never impressed with me. I like to spend my time alone with a book. I'd previously thought I was a fairly typical introvert. That's a factor, sure, but I now think my personality type may be less of a factor in my interactions with the world than my hearing loss.

I believe vowels are higher pitched and consonants lower, and vowel sounds will bend around corners and consonants won't.

The specialist told me to tell my wife, it's like we've been married for twenty years (we'd only been married two months when I saw him). He also noted it was good that we live in an open-concept house. Not too may walls that sound needs to bend around.

"Why are you here?" the doctor asked.

I could tell he was curious about me. Reverse slope loss is apparently relatively rare. Most hearing loss is at the high end of the sound spectrum. That's where noise damage and old age attacks. He warned that the biggest risk I faced was losing the high end of the sound range when I got older, since I didn't have the lower range available to me. With age, I was likely to become more significantly impaired (as my father has).

I told the doctor I was there because my wife wanted to know what was going on with my ear canals. I wasn't looking for any solutions from him. He said hearing aids wouldn't likely offer much assistance to me, in any case. I'd found ways to cope that were clearly working, so ... keep on keeping on.

Which is what I've done, but it's interesting that I can now name my condition.
Reverse slope loss.

It's reverse slope because the normal hearing loss curve is like a ski hill. It goes down from left to right. My hearing loss is charted down from right to left. It’s a double negative and sounds like it ought to, logically, work out to be a good thing, but it isn’t. Reverse slope. Loss.

I’m writing about my hearing condition on this blog because I’ve been reflecting on how different people see the world differently. My step son has a learning disability; his neurology is highly subjective. He has a view of the world on a kilter to everyone else. Also, I’ve been thinking about how everyone has their own literary tastes – and their own political ones, too.

People often hear what they want to hear, yes, but also (in my case, for example) people only hear what they are capable of hearing. With whatever information they are able to take in, they make meaning.

The inability to communicate stable meaning has been a mainstay of literary modernism for over a century. Thomas Pynchon, in particular, has long brought together communications theory and physics: meaning is lost in the transfer of language just as energy is lost in the transfer of matter. Entropy is the key concept here.

My diagnosis with reverse slope loss has made this issue more personal to me than ever. I’ve clearly mis-heard people my entire life. To those of you who’ve been hurt by this – sorry! At the same time, it seems I must conclude that misunderstanding is just as important as understanding in the formation of meaning.

I didn’t get “it,” but I got something! Sounds like Beckett or Kafka, doesn’t it?



Anonymous said...

Hey I came across this article looking further into my own reverse slope (something i've been aware of my whole life and comes from my mom's side) and I wanted to point out that you should'nt give up on getting hearing aids. I'm 25 years old currently and grew up trying different types of analog hearing aids which amplified all sounds and annoyed me because the high frequencies scraped at my eardrums. I stopped wearing them, and learned to get by just as you have over the course of your life.

But two years ago I went to an audiologist who specializes in reverse slope (since it's a rare condition, there aren't many) and he hooked me up with a set of brand new Widex digital hearing aids, which he programmed to only amplify the frequencies I had trouble hearing. The difference is amazing. After some getting used to, i learned how to hear those sounds i'd been missing my whole life.

So I guess what I'm saying, is try the digital hearing aids. They are expensive (mine were mid-priced at 3000 dollars) but trust me it's worth it. Also, if you leave a deposit many audiologists will allow you to try them for a month and get your deposit back if you decide not to keep them.

Anyway, hope this helps.

Ally @ NCSU said...

I also came across this article researching my reverse slope.. and it sounds like you can help! I've been looking for a specialist and have been unable to find one! How did you find one and where? Also can you please give me more information on these Widex hearing aids? I desperately neeed new ones. THANK YOU