Diminishing Returns – “Eh, What’s That?”


Diminishing Returns – “Eh, What’s That?” by R. Ann Parris

We wreck our hearing in all sorts of ways. And then, no matter how high our baseline or how cautious we were in our youth, eventually time wreaks havoc.

Loss of hearing occurs in several ways. Some of the most prominent are:
Total reductions – Everything slowly turns into the adults on “Peanuts” going “wha wha-whum-wha whoam”
Specific tone loss – We start struggling to make out some levels, commonly the lower and deeper ranges of speech (and, super conveniently, the initial “warning” growl and grumble range for many dogs)
Loss of distinction – Instead of or in addition to loss of specific tones or total decrease in our hearing range, things start to blur and background noises start to intrude – it’s harder to make out what someone’s saying in crowded areas, with a fan or motor running, and it’s harder to make out what someone’s saying when there’s a conflict taking place such as a conversation at the next table or a radio playing in a car, or even somebody tapping a keyboard at the same time they’re speaking

In an idea world, everyone would be able to afford the incredible costs associated with hearing aids – not only the devices and time and money spent prepping for them, but the time and money spent on all the fine-tuning they require – and some backups.

Realistically, though, that’s not the case.

There are some things we can look into once hearing loss starts settling in. Some of them are fun add-ons to our “healthy, hale, young, and whole” repertoire as well, turning us into foxes and superheros instead of helping us return to a “normal”.

Amplifiers & Filters
About the same time LifeAlert made “help, I’ve fallen” a multi-generation laughingstock, there was another device being advertised: the Whisper2000 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6n2-KZ9hfA). “As Seen On TV” has moved on to other personal listening devices, but we can find a full range of non-prescription devices for as little as $20-$200 pretty much anywhere we might be inclined to shop.

Some aspects to consider:
Audio gain – common low-end devices tend to fall in the 50-75db gain ranges, but some options do offer 100-120+db gains
Trimmers – the more functions something has, the more there is to break and the more difficult it is to use, however, sometimes having a device that’s capable of fine tuning more than overall volume can be handy; the usual suspects besides audio output to look for are audio input and background noise/filtering, with some also allowing control for certain ranges of sound and noise cancellation
Directionality – Some devices are omnidirectional or fixed at 90-180-degree input, while others have the ability to focus receivers, further reducing unwanted environmental sound
Power Source – personal listening devices run off batteries, some totally internal (much like a cell phone; can be replaced but it’s not common and you charge them via a dedicated cord or station) and some typical button cell or even AAA batteries; the smaller the battery, the less conspicuous the device but there are commonly tradeoffs in battery availability and cost, and sometimes battery life length
Comfort – what’s comfortable to each of us varies, so one size does not fit all here; there’s a variety of types and styles on the market and a sampling of those below
Substitutions – for the Whisper2000 types that rely on headsets or ear buds, we’re not limited to the ones that come with the device; most use the same 3.5mm jack available in standard audio devices, so upgrading or switching to something with better audio quality is an option, as is a small standalone speaker like this as a solution for TV volumes that shake the house
Neckband Speakers (not neckband headsets, the speaker-speakers) – are also an option for customizing our listening devices, especially for people sensitive to headsets, earbuds, and the weight of hearing aids but watch for Bluetooth requirements
Lanyards – many of the devices are shown on a table or in hand or pocket; any that have a belt clip or enough room for a little discreet tape and a keyring or that will fit in a small mesh bag can easily be worn around the neck, leaving hands free

Here’s a few options to start the search and show some of the range available:
Behind-the-ear hearing aid type – $20+ –
Walkman type – $50+ – https://libertyhealthsupply.com/superear-se5000-personal-sound-amplifier-by-sonic-technology/?cmp_id=909423079&adg_id=48238736631&kwd=&device=c&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoJ_MkNbc5QIVGm6GCh398AeOEAkYBCABEgLS4PD_BwE
Walkman type, single or dual earbud – $40-$50 –
Walkman type – $75+ –
Walkman type – $140+ –
Hunter’s muffler + amplifier headset type – $70 –
Hunting company’s super compact inner-ear hearing aid type – $25 –
Bass Pro’s hearing boosters with reactive mufflers, around-the-ear and inner-ear types – $15-$200 –

Hearing loss is a pretty big deal. Some handle it well, but for many, there’s not only a sense of vulnerability, but also an awareness of the inconvenience to others, and in many cases, sensitivity to the frustration of others around us. Suffers commonly fall into the cyclic, spiraling trends of isolation, depression, and anxiety as social situations become increasingly difficult, exacerbated by missing whatever’s going on.

Don’t wait until hearing loss starts to think about some amplifiers. One, they’re out there for hunters for a reason. Two, from infections to accidents, we can lose our hearing suddenly and unexpectedly. They also make handy semi-universal solutions should a situation arise where a prescription hearing aid becomes inoperable.

There are certainly more expensive options that offer even more capability with fewer inconveniences than the ones highlighted here, but these – and any in the same general ranges – were selected because they are so readily affordable, particularly compared to the cost of “real” hearing aids.

For ourselves or our loved ones, they’re a handy tool to explore and deploy, right now and definitely for the future.

And, if you haven’t lost any hearing yet, for Pete’s sake, wear some earplugs and mufflers any time you’re around dangerous levels of sound. If you need to also be aware of the baby monitor, some of those hunter’s and shooter’s headsets are absolutely ideal.