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Thursday November 11th 2010, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Life

I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks’ book “Musicophilia” today. Sacks writes of various patients he’s known and of the neurological reasons for why they experience what they do. I got hooked on his writing years ago with “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat.”

One of his patients in the new book (wait–going and checking–he just put out a newer book last month, reviewed here) is a woman in her 70’s who, after losing enough of her hearing that if she couldn’t see your face she couldn’t hear you, she finally went ahead and had a cochlear implant.

And it was as the audiologist told me: her hearing for speech became normal and she was thrilled. He noticed that she was free now to look around the room as he spoke and she followed everything.  Her voice modulation was normal too because now she could tell when she was speaking too loud.

But it was also as I have feared and why I haven’t pursued the idea yet: she had totally lost all sense of music in her environment except for what was already in her brain from memory. There was certainly plenty of that at her age, and he speaks at length of how music is stored and handled within oneself and even of how Beethoven was probably better able to concentrate to compose after his deafness was complete.

Looking at Wikipedia, there are 16,000 hair cells in a healthy inner ear, and an implant substitutes (permanently and irreversibly) for all of them with 24 electrodes. Ouch.

But what if one ear is the old way with an aid, with all its limitations, and one the new? Can you have it both ways?  I guess one of these days I’m just going to have to find out.

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I was talking with a man who had a cochlear implant and he was telling me how his life had changed. His job was now much easier because the communication between he and his boss was now much easier. He found that watching TV at night sitting beside his father – what noisy breathing his father had!, and the first three months after the implant how tired he was getting used to the ‘noise of the world’ and trying to make sense of it.

He still loved to bicycle.

Comment by StellaMM 11.12.10 @ 12:35 am

Always, always, you give me stuff to think about. I cannot imagine my world if there were no music in it; that would be like a world without cashmere.

I wonder if your semi-transplant would be the audio equivalent of bifocal contacts (which I have not tried, because I am the Marchesa of Myopia and the Abbess of Astigmatism)?

Comment by Lynn 11.12.10 @ 4:04 am

This will have to be your decision and it is a hard one. Whatever decision you finally make your family will support you. That includes your internet family, you know 🙂

Comment by afton 11.12.10 @ 6:24 am

Now that’s a dilemma! I know I would be heartbroken without music. But maybe the halfway approach is something to investigate.

Comment by Jody 11.12.10 @ 6:53 am

Hrmph. Risk vs. reward. I’ll just hope technology continues to make BIG strides before you HAVE to have the implant(s)…

Comment by Channon 11.12.10 @ 8:00 am

that’s an interesting question — has anyone done that before?

I can’t imagine not being able to hear music — no matter what obnoxious song might be currently stuck in my head

you seem to always be going where no one (at least no one I know) has gone before

Comment by Bev 11.12.10 @ 8:21 am

That’s interesting. If you wanted to go into “enjoy music mode” you could put an ear plug in the side with the implant. Let us know what you find out!

Comment by LynnM 11.12.10 @ 8:33 am

Gee, you’d hate to lose your music. But you remind of the joke about the elderly man who had hearing loss. He went to an audiologist, and was fitted with aids. Several weeks later he went back for an adjustment, and the audiologist asked the gentleman what his family thought of his new hearing aids. “They don’t know about ’em,” he responded. “I’ve changed my will three times already.”

Comment by Don Meyer 11.12.10 @ 9:39 am

I knew a little boy a few years ago (so he’d be a big boy by now) with a cochlear implant. It had an external battery that he wore on his head (to make changing the batteries easier) and if he didn’t want to hear what people were saying to him, he would just jerk that off, and the people were supposed to know that he couldn’t hear them–and didn’t want to.

Comment by LauraN 11.12.10 @ 12:09 pm

It is fascinating how the brain interprets sensory input. I had laser correction surgery on my right eye about 15 years ago. Both eyes needed correction but I couldn’t afford to have both eyes done at the same time. I had a clear lens put into the right side of my glasses, thinking that this would give me what I had before the surgery. Nope. I couldn’t wear my glasses at all! I ended up going without my glasses and was able to see very well with monovision. I eventually had the left one corrected too and have never regretted either surgery for one minute. I don’t know how this little anecdote would relate to hearing but it’s something to think about.

Comment by Julie 11.12.10 @ 12:50 pm

I love Oliver Sacks; I read bits of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat to my students sometimes when we talk about language and brain. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at Cal when I was there, and it was exactly as wonderful as you’d imagine. I also just heard a fascinating talk on my campus the other week (serendipitously; I didn’t realize how much I’d love it and only went because I was asked by a colleague to introduce the speaker), and it was amazing – all about the connection between brain, language, and music. He’s written a book that I’m planning to get: Music, Language, and the Brain, by Aniruddh Patel. You might find it interesting…

Comment by Jocelyn 11.12.10 @ 1:12 pm

I especially loved Sacks’ ‘A Leg to Stand On.’ It’s where I learned of the importance of classical music when one feels ill. Many a time I’ve awakened uncertain of where I am only to be reassured by music that I’m in an ordered world.

Comment by robinm 11.14.10 @ 11:26 am

have you heard of hybrid cochlear implants? If you hav high pitched loss, it helps with that while leaing the low pitch alone. which makes music more enjoyable as you get to keep most, if not all of what you already have and add some of what you don’t. this is the type I will probably eventually get. They have recently started doing this type in Ottawa, I’ll bet they do them in your area too. I found a link (granted it’s UK, but it’s a staring point for info)

Comment by Carol 11.18.10 @ 6:15 pm

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