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Sound Sense: Living and Learning with Hearing Loss
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Compensatory Senses

When you have a hearing loss, you are often perched in the middle of two worlds, drawing on all of your senses to enrich and complete the parts of your life that your ears cannot fill in. You hear with your eyes—which people with normal hearing also do, of course, though they are probably not as aware of it. You can feel silence, see speech, smell fear, and taste life more acutely than a lot of people with better hearing.

John, my wonderful husband, says that I notice everything—nothing gets by me, especially his flaws!—and that skill can come in handy. When someone loses his or her hearing, other senses become more important. I fully appreciated how much I relied on sight and smell a few days after my cochlear implant activation. John—then my fiancé—and I went to a movie, and I saw a popcorn machine at the concession counter spilling out freshly popped kernels by the thousand.

That buttery smell hit me, but something else did, too—for the first time in about thirty years, I really heard the popcorn popping. All of those years, I thought that I was hearing the popping sound, but what I was really doing was remembering it. My auditory memory combined with my senses of sight and smell created a sound that wasn’t there, but to me, it was powerfully real. Since then, I have been much more aware of the interaction among my senses, and the richness that the interplay gives to mundane situations when I pay attention to what everything along with my ears tells me.

The next section describes ways to celebrate life using your other senses during everyday experiences and how to use ordinary things around the house to help make each day extraordinary. Give your whole being a renaissance with these ideas for rejuvenating and energizing your everyday life and your home, sense by sense.

Touch

  • After a long day of listening, pamper yourself from head to toe. Take out your hearing aids, soak a cotton ball in warm water, and squeeze out the excess. Swab the damp ball around your outer ears and let the warmth melt your stresses away. Then, divert your attention from your ears to your toes with a relaxing footbath. Aromatic flower petals or lemon slices, warm water, and smooth stones to massage your feet will let you revel in your sense of touch.
  • Nothing beats a massage for de-stressing. While professional bodywork feels amazing, it can also be expensive. You can self-massage many areas of your body, or ask your partner to gently work on your trouble spots. Massage oils are available at bath stores, pharmacies, and even some supermarkets.
  • When getting a massage from someone else—whether your significant other or a pro—you’ll be able to relax more if you do not wear your hearing aids or speech processor. Communicate your treatment preferences before getting started and arrange a hand sign or other signal to let the masseuse or masseur know that you need a change in pressure. Ask for a tap on the shoulder when you need to turn over.
  • Wear soft, comfy clothes to help you relax. Warm slippers and snuggly robes are great for cooler weather.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, try using a hot water bottle or a microwaveable “buddy” to help you nod off.
  • Curl up on the couch in a fleece throw.
  • Enjoy the warm feelings that come from petting your cat or dog.
  • Keeping your head warm in winter can make your whole body feel cozy, but finding a chapeau that doesn’t disturb your hearing aids or cochlear implant speech processor can be daunting. Look for one that sits high on your head to avoid generating feedback. Berets, cabbie hats, and newsboy caps are a few good choices for women, and adjustable baseball caps and fedoras are comfortable for guys.
  • Dissolve bath salts in a tub of warm water and enjoy a good long soak—even better if by candlelight!
Taste
  • Liven up your brown-bag lunches with homemade Mexican- or Asian-inspired dishes instead of the same-old sandwiches. Cookbooks and cooking magazines are available at the library, and many recipes are also available on the Internet—try the online version of your favorite food magazine as a starting point.
  • Each time you go grocery shopping buy one new food that you have never tried before. Stick to seasonal items for the best prices.
  • Try combining two soups that you have on hand, such as tomato and chicken with rice. Serve with a slice of cheese and a hunk of artisan bread for a simple and delicious dinner. You can also try mixing up breakfast cereals for variety—basic wheat flakes go with just about everything.
  • Plan a meal using several different-textured foods to enjoy, such as a salad with soft spinach, crunchy walnuts, nubbly blue cheese, and chewy cranberries topped with a tangy vinaigrette.
  • Add cinnamon to hot chocolate, oatmeal, or buttered toast for a little zip. Experiment with adding spices and herbs to foods you eat all the time.
Sight
  • Think color! Buy inexpensive and unique coffee mugs at a dollar store or a neighborhood garage sale to wake up your kitchen.
  • Bright place mats and dishtowels can also make your mealtimes more pleasant. During the long, gray days of winter, sunny yellow kitchen linens can offer cheer and the promise of spring.
  • Always wear black or beige? Break out of the mold and don a scarlet scarf, a fuchsia fedora, or a turquoise t-shirt.
  • Paint walls a soothing color, such as light blue or goldenrod.
  • Hang vibrant posters on bare walls or in your cube at work.
  • Get a bunch of silk flowers from a discount store and put them in a vase or an old jar for some no-maintenance prettiness inside throughout the year.
  • The color of your sheets may help you sleep better. When the weather is hot, white or pastel sheets can make you feel a little less burdened by the high temperatures. If you have trouble falling asleep regardless of the weather, try using dark sheets, such as chocolate brown or navy blue; burrowing in these colors will give your eyes fewer distractions than lighter shades that reflect any nearby illumination.

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