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Bakewell and District Probus Club

The Evolution of Hearing Aids




Deafness is a disability borne by a great number of people and, although it is usually associated with the elderly, it can often affect children and younger adults. Being an unseen condition, its sufferers can easily be ignored by the general public or even find themselves the subject of unsympathetic attempted humour.

In this talk to the Bakewell and District Probus Club, the speaker was club member Hugh Wright who described his own experience of lifelong deafness. From birth - and in spite of using a succession of hearing aids throughout his life – his condition deteriorated to the extent that he now relies on a cochlear implant. This is a small surgically implanted electronic device that bypasses acoustic hearing by direct electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve and can provide a sense of sound to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. (On the attached photo, the external part of this device can be seen on the side of Hugh’s head, above and behind his ear).

The speaker opened his talk by describing the causes of hearing loss of which there are two main types – sensorineural (damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve, or both) and conductive (when a blockage, such as ear wax, stops sound passing from the outer ear to the inner ear). Age-related damage to the inner ear is the single biggest cause of hearing loss, which is mainly caused by the gradual wear and tear to the tiny sensory cells known as ‘hair cells’ in the cochlea. This is the hearing organ in the inner ear. Hugh continued by examining the ways in which the disability has been mitigated by the use of various types of hearing aids. The earliest devices were shaped like a trumpet which served to amplify the incoming sounds. These were of limited effectiveness but, in the late 19th century with the invention of the telephone, there was a move to the use of hearing aids whereby sounds were electronically boosted in volume to improve their ‘hearability’. With the later development of transistor and digital technology and the miniaturisation of electronic components in general, hearing aids have now become lighter and can be worn more discreetly, even within the ear itself.

As though to demonstrate that profound hearing loss need not necessarily prevent great achievements being accomplished, the speaker drew attention to a number of high-profile examples, such as the redoubtable MP, Jack Ashley, who fought tirelessly in Parliament on behalf of disabled people. In the world of music, Beethoven began losing his hearing in his mid-20s but, despite his increasing deafness, went on to compose some of his most celebrated works. And, in more recent times, we have witnessed how the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, and the actress Rose Ayling-Ellis have overcome their disabilities in spectacular fashion.

Details of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, including reports of earlier meetings, can be found on its website at www.bakewell probus.org



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