After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life



Katherine Bouton is the author of “Shouting Won’t Help – Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” and “Living Better with Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends… and Hearing Aids.”  She is a former editor at the New York Times where she worked on the NY Times Magazine and Book Review, and on the daily Science and Culture Desks.  Katherine is a frequent speaker to professional and hearing loss groups on hearing loss issues. Her blog  appears weekly at AARP online and also on her own site. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

I very much appreciate when someone responds to my blog pasts. Recently I got a very nice response from Katherine Bouton about my experiences returning to performing music again. We originally met via Facebook as readers of each other’s posts and blog articles. I greatly respect her writing and admire her work in the hearing loss community, so I decided to reach out to her. One thing led to another, which eventually led to the following interview. I know you’ll enjoy and learn from what she has to say.

Stu: Can you talk about the evolution of your own hearing loss?

Katherine: Other than age related, there is no hearing loss in my family. I lost the hearing in my left ear when I was 30. There was no indication that anything was wrong until one morning when I couldn’t hear on the telephone and later that day developed dizziness and tinnitus. An MRI and other tests all came up negative and it was diagnosed as Idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss. During my 30’s my hearing worsened and affected my right ear. By 50 I was profoundly deaf in the left ear and had a moderate hearing loss in my right ear. In 2002, I got hearing aids and they helped a lot, but my hearing loss continued to progress, often after periods of prolonged stress, and by 2008, I had lost much of the hearing in my right ear. After a series of last ditch measures, I got a cochlear implant in September of 2009.

Stu: What is the quality of your “hearing experience” now?

Katherine: It varies according to the environment and who is speaking. It’s also dependent on my emotional state. During the years immediately following the implant, I lost my job, and five members of my immediate family died – one after the other. I was the oldest child and the point person for all of them and it was stressful and debilitating. It took therapy and medication to get me back to normal (sort of). Now, as long as disasters aren’t occurring, I hear well enough. I’m a good lip reader, and I’m also pretty brazen about asking people to repeat themselves, even asking a whole dinner table full of people to stop and tell me what they’re talking about.

Stu: What hearing technology do you use?  

Katherine: I have a Phonak Naida hearing aid and an Advanced Bionics Naida cochlear implant. I use my ComPilot for listening to music and books on my smart phone and I love it. I also have a Roger Pen. I use captions on TV. I’m always delighted to find myself in a venue with a hearing loop. Continue reading

Sing in the Shower: 6 Ways to Enhance Your Hearing Experience

I’ve previously talked about the importance of being mindful about your hearing. I’ve found that taking the time to pay attention to how your hearing changes in different environments and after different activities can make you more aware of your hearing health in general. Once you have a good grasp on how your ears are functioning, you could move on to activities to re-train your hearing. While I’m not a doctor or hearing professional – and do not encourage any of my blog posts to be taken as medical advice – here are some activities that I’ve found have “enhanced” my hearing experience. 

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Depending on your hearing loss and ability, you may benefit from hearing rehab, listening exercises and/or ear training.

Before 2013 I had no idea what aural rehabilitation was. Then, a musician friend suggested I visit the Hearing Rehabilitation Foundation in Boston, which works with those with hearing aids and cochlear implants to strengthen their hearing experience through a variety of techniques and exercises. Continue reading

How mindfulness can help enhance your hearing experience

How we talk about things influences how we perceive them, such as talking about hearing “loss.” In the same way, how we think about hearing loss can influence how it affects us. Being mindful about my hearing and how I talk about it has taught me many good things.

The focus on hearing loss has always been on the impairment, the “dis”-ability. Certainly from one perspective that’s exactly what we have. A loss. But you could read your audiogram another way and see the amount of hearing “ability” you may still have even after a loss.

With so many advances in the past several years, 2016 may be a good time to start focusing on our actual experience of “hearing” – what I will call our “ability” to hear – and not just on our loss as measured by an audiogram.

This thought hit home for me very recently when I started to perform music again after 34 years. I was encouraged by a musician colleague to read new research about the brain’s “neuro-plasticity” and what it might mean for me and my musical aspirations. I also started aural rehabilitation and I resumed vocal training that I had discontinued three decades before.

During the past two years, through much repetition and practice, I felt that I was experiencing changes in my hearing that were definitely improvements and enhancements – even though my audiogram didn’t budge.

So what was going on? Continue reading

Musicians with hearing loss: Q&A with Wendy Cheng

If you’re a musician, the probability that you’ll develop hearing loss is staggering.

Approximately 30-40% of pop/rock musicians and 50-60% of classical musicians suffer from some degree of hearing loss, according to the Director of Auditory Research Musicians’ Clinics of Canada. Even more suffer from tinnitus.

Once a musician develops hearing loss, many simply stop playing. Suddenly, they’re faced with a unique set of challenges that go beyond simply understanding and being able to interpret musical sounds. Negotiating the audio spectrum of music, adjustments of hearing aids or cochlear implants, and coordinating and harmonizing talent, skill and muscle memory are just a few of these challenges. Picking up where they left off before their hearing loss – or in some cases starting from scratch with a lifelong hearing loss – is daunting.

However, as a professional musician who developed bilateral hearing loss myself, I can tell you that many of us do and will do whatever it takes to continue their musical passions – for music is a soul pursuit not just a technical one.

As a professional musician who developed bilateral hearing loss myself, I can tell you that many of us do and will do whatever it takes to continue their musical passions – for music is a soul pursuit not just a technical one.

A colleague of mine who understands this well is Wendy Cheng, a violist with bilateral hearing loss since the age of 9 and the founder of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss. AAMHL’s diverse membership includes musicians all along the hearing spectrum and for whom hearing loss is “significant enough to  impact how they play or no longer play their instruments and/or perform.”

I spoke with Wendy about her life and work.

Continue reading

Making Music Again – A Grand Leap Forward with Hearing Loss

I recently wrote about performing music again long after I had assumed that those days were over. But I was convinced to try again after learning about new hearing aid technology (my Phonak Audèo V), research about the brain, hearing rehab, vocal training and dedication for lots of practice.

When I first started preforming again I chose familiar venues – a friend’s home and a local establishment – and then enlisted my own audiences through an e-mail newsletter, social media postings, and personal referrals, not knowing what might come from my performance. Each concert was full – about 30 people – and the response was warm and positive.

The first two performances were less than precise and the feedback that I received, albeit encouraging, indicated that more work was needed.

At first blush, it appeared that I did not account for other variables that might have improved my performance and more closely met my standards. After the second performance, in fact, I considered ending the test runs until I could be more “sure.”

But when is that exactly? And sure of what? I didn’t know. Continue reading

Overcoming Hearing Loss to Make Music Again

On Oct. 25, 2015, I did something I hadn’t done for more than 34 years. I performed my music in front of a live audience.

I had a successful music career in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it ended when, by 1982, I had lost my hearing. This year, however, I made the decision to return to the recording studio and follow my musical passions again.

Here’s my account of the event: Continue reading

Health and Hearing — A Way of Eating (Part II)

In “Health and Hearing (Part I)” Stu talks about his journey in finding a reason for his hearing loss and his path for self healing with alternative medicine… 

I wanted to know why I had lost my hearing and what – if anything – I could do about it. I was willing to go wherever it took me.

Like most people, I depended on conventional western medical diagnoses, treatments and therapies for my health needs. So I had no idea where to go if not there. I was hardly in perfect health, but at 29 there were enough physical tics to suggest a look under the hood wasn’t a bad idea. I wanted to find an alternative path to health and wellness… something outside the box.

I was connected to a group of fellow travelers – many with serious ailments of their own – who turned me on to an astounding array of things to try. Acupuncture, spinal and TMJ adjustments and bite plates, colonic irrigations, meditation, massage, yoga, tai chi and an overwhelming variety of magic foods, supplements, drinks, etc. I jumped in with a vengeance at a sizable cost, as insurance companies weren’t covering much outside the conventional medical box.

Naïve to be sure, but I held out hope that one day, with the next chiropractic adjustment, colon cleanse, hour of meditation, or fruit smoothie my hearing would literally click back into place like turning on a light switch. So I was diligent. Fanatical. And though that did not happen, something else did.

Continue reading