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You're never too old to hear well

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

It was at a family gathering in 2010 when my daughter Robin realized that I was missing parts of the conversations. A hearing test shortly after concluded that I had a mild to moderate hearing loss. I ignored it for a few years as it wasn’t that bothersome. But now, after a lot of research, I highly regret that decision. I did end up getting hearing aids, and for a while, they helped.

But soon after, I was having major problems hearing again. And again, it was Robin who had an idea. It turns out her friend Heidi had been using cochlear implants (CI) on both ears for many years. Robin put us in touch, and Heidi was wonderful about answering questions. Intrigued, I quickly turned to research—reading blogs and CI sites, asking more questions, and learning as much as possible about all aspects of this technology. I was also concerned about having surgery at the age of 81.

Implantation surgery

My doctors were wonderful every step of the way. They made sure that my health was up to the surgery. We discussed the various options available. But when one of them described how AB’s CI and Phonak hearing aids “talked” to each other, it almost became a no-brainer which product I would use. We were also impressed with AB’s mentoring system, including their site with numerous lessons available for practicing hearing. Also, both my surgeon and audiologist think highly of them.

When one of them described how AB’s CI and Phonak hearing aids ‘talked’ to each other, it almost became a no-brainer which product I would use.

— Julie Anne (Gehrandt) Chitwood, who hears with an AB cochlear implant

I had the surgery on my right ear, my worse ear, in November, 2021. The prep was so easy and the surgery only took two and a half hours. I was kept informed of what was happening every step of the way. I was quickly out of the recovery area and could go home. Due to the residual effects of the anesthetic, I did take a nap for the rest of the day. That night, I found that one acetaminophen tablet taken at bedtime allowed me a good night’s sleep.

Activation

Fortunately, I healed quickly, and I got activated on December 1st. On the way home after the appointment, I received my first wonderful surprise! One of the things that had worried me about my hearing loss was that I could no longer hear sirens — flashing lights would just suddenly appear with no warning, obviously a very dangerous situation. But this time, at a green light at a crowded intersection, I heard sirens! They were coming from several different directions. Not only did I hear them, but I had enough time to stay out of the intersection. I said a prayer for whoever needed the emergency help, and then grinned ear to ear.

Through my research, I knew that getting a CI wouldn’t be a quick fix. I would have to do, as I joked with the family, a lot of “homework” and I would also need their help and support. But I think because I was using hearing aids until the surgery, the CI has been easy to adjust to. Between the hearing aid and CI talking to each other, voices and music have sounded normal to me from the day of activation. 

Two months in

If I just use the CI for practice, voices do sound different. Sometimes with the hearing aid and CI, it takes a minute for a voice to become the one I’m used to. Almost like the brain says, “Oh, wait, I remember this granddaughter’s voice.” With music, if it’s a song I know well, I rarely have problems with the words. In fact, I can actually hear them now, whereas I couldn’t before. During the first month, I heard background noise in the CI ear, but that has basically gone away. Another positive is that my tinnitus, which I’ve had for many years, is hardly noticeable anymore.

Another positive is that my tinnitus, which I’ve had for many years, is hardly noticeable any more.

— Julie Anne (Gehrandt) Chitwood, who hears with an AB cochlear implant

I still have problems in noisy situations. In the last test I took, which was one month after activation, my results showed 85% word recognition in quiet, and 15% improvement under noisy conditions. Before the CI, I basically could not understand speech in noise at all.

Nowadays, I practice every day, listening to audio books and music, doing AB rehab lessons. My husband usually has the TV on, and I just started using the Word Success app on my smartphone. So, my world is full of sound. My kids call a lot, so I also get practice using the phone. Since the calls stream directly into my ears, being on the phone is so much easier and enjoyable.

Looking forward

I still have problems hearing the TV. Trying to hear someone wearing a mask, especially if they are behind a receptionist window, is a major challenge. Several conversations going on at once leave me picking up words from each conversation, which is confusing, to say the least.

But I also know I am just starting out on this hearing journey, and it will continue to get better. I’ve also learned not to “fake” it. I’ll ask someone to restate something I don’t understand. I pick the best seat at the table to give myself an edge on hearing. I’ve learned to let people know that I still am working at training my brain to hear again.

What I’ve found is that a lot of people have questions about the CI, not necessarily for themselves, but because they have a parent or friend with a hearing problem. Some have heard a little bit about it, while to others it is new technology. So, I’m always happy to share my experience, to educate, and to help spread the word that it is an amazing, life-changing technology. 

Julie Anne (Gehrandt) Chitwood
Written by Julie Anne Chitwood

Julie Anne (Gehrandt) Chitwood

Julie was born in 1940 in Evanston, Illinois. She and her husband Billy head a blended family of six children: Robin, Craig, Rick, Scott, Shelley, and Brandon, plus numerous grand and great-grandchildren. She’s passionate about family, animals, genealogy, and reading. 

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