Here at Neurotone we talk a lot about Listening and Communication Enhancement (LACE), the aural rehabilitation program that retrains your brain to listen. Created by audiologists to help new hearing aid users make sense of all the sounds they’re hearing for the first time in years, LACE also works for veteran hearing aid users as well as for those who are just tired of missing out on conversations.
Whichever category describes you, LACE training helps you develop strategies and skills for listening so that you can get the most out of the sounds you do hear.
How It Works
LACE training consists of 20 sessions, each lasting 30 minutes and including multiple exercises covering five areas (listed below). The program is interactive, so it responds to your performance. When you do well, it ratchets up the challenge so you can hone your listening skills even further. When you’re struggling, it eases up so you can experience victories and make solid and sustainable progress. There are five types of exercises:
The statistics on hearing loss in America are pretty grim. It’s the #3 health issue for older adults, after arthritis and heart disease. It can lead to depression and mental decline, and it has major implications for quality of life.
Fortunately, humans are rational creatures who do sensible things to improve their circumstances, right?
Not so fast. Only 20% of people with hearing loss who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wear one. And typically, those folks have waited 7 to 10 years after their initial diagnosis to get fitted with hearing aids.
What the heck is going on?
Hearing loss among military vets doesn’t get much respect, as injuries go. No one hugs overseas-bound soldiers at the airport saying, “Just make it back home with all your hearing, you understand?”
Maybe they should. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, hearing loss and tinnitus are the two most common service-related disabilities among American veterans, outstripping post-traumatic stress disorder, back problems, lost limbs and a host of other war-related horrors—and costing individuals an average of $12,000 a year in lost income, not to mention frustration, isolation and, if left untreated, cognitive decline.
When you narrow the field to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s unclear how prevalent hearing loss and tinnitus are, but indications are troubling. The Defense Department notes that in the current wars, 75% of injuries are from blasts—and 50% of those blasts cause permanent hearing loss (not to be confused with total hearing loss). According to the L.A. Times, 43% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on disability have tinnitus.
“There is a distinct difference between hearing and listening,” writes Woodbury, N.Y. audiologist Diana Callesano in the January/February issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. “Listening incorporates a variety of cognitive skills that hearing alone does not require.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Neurotone’s LACE (Listening and Communication Enhancement) training was designed to sharpen up cognitive skills like memory and attention so that people with hearing loss and those with hearing aids can get the most out of the sounds they do hear.
Now there’s another reason to take LACE aural rehabilitation training: preserving brain function. Research is now suggesting that hearing loss, if left unaddressed, can lead to loss of cognition. Callesano explains how hearing loss taxes the brain and drains cognitive resources:
by Traci Hukill
I took the LACE training course in December. What that means is that for 30 minutes a day for three weeks, I sat down in front of my computer in a quiet room and did listening comprehension exercises designed to improve my listening skills, complete with regular testing to monitor my progress.
Besides helping me hone my ability to focus on speech even in tough circumstances, the LACE training was fun—a bonus I hadn’t counted on. Here are the things I liked best about it:
‘Competing Voices’ Exercises In a nutshell, LACE training consists of five types of listening exercises. Competing Voices features two speakers talking at the same time about two totally different topics. The trick is to follow one of the voices (which means blocking out the other voice) and be able to repeat the sentence. The program makes it more difficult by increasing the volume of the voice you don’t want to hear. Just like life!
Testimonial Videos The first few LACE training sessions include short testimonial videos from people who’ve completed the training. One of these is San Francisco Chronicle senior pop music critic Joel Selvin, who says he took LACE training as part of his research for an article but discovered unexpected benefits shortly afterward when he found himself seated at a large round table in a, yes, noisy restaurant.
A few weeks ago I attended an evening open house at a local business. The idea was to network for 45 minutes or so until it was time to listen to the featured speaker. In the lobby I filled out my name tag, grabbed a glass of white wine and stepped around the corner into the open-construction space where the networking was supposed to happen.
I knew right away I was in trouble.
I am 47 years old, and I have what has been described by audiologists as typical hearing loss for my age. But in this roomful of hard surfaces and boisterously talking people, loud and unintelligible sounds were bouncing off the walls and floor like laser beams. They actually hurt my ears. This evening, meaningful conversation—at least for me—was going to be almost impossible.
As it happens, I wasn’t alone. Others commented (or yelled) on the noise level, and a few people simply took refuge on the edges of the room. But it got me thinking about how isolated and anxious I would have felt if everyone else had been just fine with the noise level.
Experts say hearing loss is one of the most isolating things that can happen to a person, that it leads to depression and reduced quality of life. On Networking Night I got a glimpse into that world.
NOT SO BAD … YET
A look back at some of the hearing devices of the past and their modern-day counterparts.
BLARIN’ WITH FLAIR
Old-timey Hearing Aid: The Ear Trumpet The first widely manufactured hearing aids were ear trumpets—those instruments of aural assistance that were about as discreet as a giraffe at your dinner table. They ranged from about 6 inches to 12 inches long and came in a variety of materials: silver, brass, wood, ivory, tortoiseshell, faux tortoiseshell. They came camouflaged in fans, curved like pipes and straight like soprano saxophones, but the basic principle remained the same: collect sound via a large opening and funnel it into the ear via a small opening.
Some people managed to make their ear trumpets fashionable, like the eccentric Swiss aristocrat Madame de Meuron, pictured above. She reportedly once answered the question of why she carried an ear trumpet by saying, “So I can hear only what I want to hear.” Hmph!
For fans of live theater, life is far richer for it, and having to do without it because of hearing loss is a sad thing.
Maybe those people should consider relocating to Colorado. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) is in the middle of a pathbreaking season of equal opportunity for the hard-of-hearing, both onstage and in the house. From now through Nov. 15, the center is showing Tribes, the story of Billy, a deaf man raised in a family of proud, intellectual contrarians who can hear perfectly well but don’t listen for beans. When Billy meets Sylvia, a woman who teaches him sign language, he starts questioning what it means to be understood.
The actor in the lead role is deaf in one ear and losing his hearing in the other; the actor playing the woman he meets was raised using sign language. In a reversal of the usual translation dynamic, the production translates Billy and Sylvia’s signed conversations for the hearing audience via supertitles. And of course the topic itself—hearing and deafness, both literal and metaphoric—is of particular interest to anyone who has lost hearing ability and struggled to communicate.
All that is pretty remarkable. But DCPA is also distinguishing itself in the services it offers patrons with degraded hearing. For the duration of the Tribes run, DCPA is trying out 10 closed-captioning devices for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. With a screen roughly the size of an iPhone, the device clips to the back of the seat in front of the patron and discreetly displays dialog and stage activity (e.g., “phone rings”) typed in by a live captioning operator.
In several hours of web research, I haven’t found any other theater offering such a service. Most of the nation’s performing arts theaters offer Assistive Listening Devices (basically amplifiers worn as headsets) of varying degrees of sophistication and stop there.
The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the leader in making theater accessible, offers two American Sign Language (ASL)-interpreted performances and at least two open-captioned performances per production. (In open-captioned performances, dialog and stage activity are printed in real time on an LED screen to one side of the stage). Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago offers one ASL performance and three open-captioned performances per production.
Other theaters with substantial hearing-accessible offerings—Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, to name a few—fall somewhere in the middle. Most all of them, save Victory Gardens, are on one of the coasts.
So DCPA—forward-thinking, pro-active and located in the middle of the country—is a rare animal. Its baseline hearing-accessible offerings, laid out in this video (the hearing section begins at 2:09), are robust: state-of-the-art assistive listening devices, one ASL performance per production and an open-captioned performance for about half the productions.
We find the example set by Denver to be seriously encouraging. Neurotone’s L.A.C.E. program was created on the premise that people can improve their listening skills even after they’ve suffered hearing loss by learning how to focus on context, tone and other aspects of communication. And we firmly believe that you don’t need perfect hearing in order to be an excellent listener. But it’s also nice to know that there’s a little hearing help out there in the world when we need it.
Resources for Hearing-Accessible Theatres in the U.S.
Click here to learn more about the Denver Center for the Perfoming Arts production of Tribes. If you live in the area and wish to reserve a closed-captioned device, call (303) 893-4100 48 hours ahead of time to reserve it.
Click here for a list of theaters around the country that regularly offer open-captioned performances.
Click for a list of upcoming open-captioned performances in the New York City area
Click here for a brief explanation of different assistive listening devices
“My aim really is to teach the world to listen,” says Evelyn Glennie at the opening of her wildly popular 2003 TED Talk, “How to Truly Listen.” “That’s my only real aim in life.”
Much has changed in the 12 years since the celebrated Scottish percussionist urged an audience in Monterey to “really use our bodies as a resonating chamber.” She’s since become Dame Evelyn Glennie, her long dark hair has silvered, and she’s gone on record saying she’d like to record with rapper Eminem.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the public’s general understanding of how we listen. Glennie, who is profoundly deaf (unlike someone who is totally deaf, she hears some sounds), has long argued that “hearing” is not the same as “listening”—that in fact, ears are just one avenue of receiving sound.
“Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch,” she writes in a fascinating piece called “The Hearing Essay.” She demonstrates this principle beautifully in “How to Truly Listen,” and 12 years later her message still, well, resonates. Enjoy it below, or listen to a 10-minute segment on from a June 2015 episode of NPR’s “The TED Radio Hour.”
Contact Us Today
PO Box 3597
Redwood City, CA 94063
Sales: (650) 241-0066
Support: (800) 409-5223
Fax: (650) 839-0200