Molly Berry: Hearing loss isn’t only about communication, there are other sounds too

Posted on March 3, 2017


Today is would hearing day, and Cochlear UK is running a “happiest sound” competition, and this, and a long running discussion on Facebook about sign language, lipreading, D/deaf and HOH, reminded me of something that is often overlooked in these discussions.

Hearing isn’t just about communication!

Our hearing keeps us in touch with the world around us, it is the first sense that we get in the womb, the unborn child can hear mums’ heartbeat, the music that is playing, voices, and other things.

Sight only keeps us in touch with those things that happen to be in our line of sight. Our eyes don’t tell us if there is water running, if there is a plane overhead, birds hidden in a tree, someone behind us, a car approaching from around that bend, too many things to mention, was that a silent fart, or did everyone hear it?

At the end of the second world war a doctor ( Donald A. Ramsdell, Ph.D) working with wounded service men was surprised to find that his patients who had been suddenly deafened were the ones that had the most difficulty adjusting to their disability. Some said they felt like dead men walking, and many were suicidal.

He decided to investigate, and what he discovered was that there are three levels of hearing.

The first is the sounds that we take for granted, like the wind in the trees, the sound of water running, bird song, the sound of putting your cup down on the table. When we are sitting quietly reading a book we are not aware of the sounds we are hearing, or that they are constantly changing, they are just part of the background noise, but they are keeping us in touch with our world, and ready to react.

Second is alarm sounds, like when a car suddenly brakes, or a child behind a fence screams, and everyone turns round, except the deaf person,. You may not have noticed that there is a plane overhead, but if the engine noise changes, you notice straight away!

The third is communication, language, we are social animals, and it is important that we are able to be part of a community.

It is the loss of the first of these that is most devastating, and this is true of gradual hearing loss as well as sudden hearing loss, it is a large part of why those that lose their hearing can become withdrawn and depressed.

For some people, hearing aids mean that we still have some access to these sounds, but for those of us that become profoundly deaf (and for whom it is appropriate) a cochlear implant can restore those background sounds, and it is that, not just the fact that it is easier to communicate with others, that in my view is the real joy!

My happiest sounds? My cat purring, the sound of the rain on the roof of my boat, I’m a boater, and I do enjoy the radio.

By Molly Berry, Lipreading Tutor, Chair of atla (Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults). 

For information on classes nationwide taught by qualified tutors, go to the ATLA (The Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults) website at:

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