Final Word | February 2016 Hearing Review
While some species need hearing for survival, humans may value it only for certain activities
A moth, like many of nature’s creatures, goes about its life in a pre-programmed manner: Fly about in the dark, dance in circles around a light source, and do what is necessary to procreate a new generation of moths. It also needs to stay alive long enough to do all of this.
A significant predator of moths is the bat. Bats, as you may know, use sound to locate flying insects as prey. The bat wants to eat the moth, and the moth wants to avoid being eaten. To avoid as many bats as possible, the moth has a sense of hearing that is tuned to hear the ultrasonic chirps that bats use to home in on their prey. When the moth hears the bat chirp, it knows to take evasive action and stay out of the way so the bat will eat some other unlucky insect who isn’t as clever.
The moth is unwittingly a host to other organisms, such as mites, that like to live in and around their ears. These mites are busy riding around on the moth, and procreating so that there will be plenty more mites in the future. It happens that the mites can be so successful that they impair the hearing of the moth as their population grows. This can be fatal to both the moth and the mites if the impaired hearing prevents the moth from hearing a bat and all are eaten because no evasive action was taken. Nature has taken care of this by programming the mites to only live in one ear of the moth, leaving the other ear open to hear approaching danger.
An important take-away from this story about nature and evolution is the importance of hearing for humans, animals, and even moths, as they take up their roles in society and the greater community of all living things. This knowledge makes it even harder for me to understand why many individuals with hearing difficulty don’t place a high enough priority on their hearing to take action when they have a problem.
Many of the intake history forms and outcome questionnaires I have seen directly ask about the importance of hearing to the individual who is to be a patient or subject of a study. I wonder if it might be enlightening to ask first about what things are important for an individual overall? For example, if I ask the next 69-year-old patient I see what things are important to them in life, I might hear things about their work, partner, grandchildren, travel, and perhaps the hobbies they enjoy. From that information, I might be able to construct a list of situations and relationships that they have listed as very important to them that are also dependent upon the sense of hearing for enjoyment. It’s then a simple step to convert these important aspects of their life into specific goals for our treatment plan.
If the patient decides to proceed with amplification, we can use these very individual, personalized goals as benchmarks for how well the hearing aids are benefiting their overall quality of life. At the follow up visits, instead of inquiring with vague questions about their initial experience with hearing aids, I might ask how the visit with their grandchildren went, how they did at playing cards with friends, where they went to dinner, where they sat in the restaurant, and so on. This approach ties the entire process to them personally, and their performance with people and situations they enjoy, rather than focusing on problems.
The Final Word? Hearing is important, but not necessarily a priority for many of the people we see. If people have gone to the trouble to seek services from us or to check their hearing, there is an unspoken message that hearing may be a priority for them, but they may not know it as such. If we can shape our conversation with them into a discussion of activities in their life that are important to them, it may not be necessary to force the question of how important hearing is to them. We can personalize the goals of our treatment plan to focus on the elements of their life that bring them pleasure and enjoyment and, along the way, they may discover that better hearing overall gives them even more things to enjoy.
Dennis Van Vliet, AuD, has been a prominent clinician, columnist, educator, and leader in the hearing healthcare field for nearly 40 years, and his professional experience includes working as an educational audiologist, a private-practice owner, and VP of audiology for a large dispensing network. He currently serves as the senior director of professional relations for Starkey Technologies, Eden Prairie, Minn.
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Original citation for this article: Van Vliet D. The Final Word: Taking a Lesson from Nature on the Importance of Hearing. Hearing Review. 2016;23(2):50.?