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Sonic Boom or Bust?

This Bonus Section forms part of the Amazon double category bestselling book How to Retire Like a Rockstar by Myers La Roche director Dominic Watson.  As per the main book disclaimer, the author provides this information on an ‘as is’ basis and makes no (and expressly disclaims all) representations and warranties of any kind in respect of this written material.  The author will not be liable for any damages arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this material.

The Rockstar Retirement Top 5 Selection of the Loudest Rock Bands 

1.    Rock band Sleazy Zoe were recorded hitting a staggering 143 decibels during a concert in their native Sweden. 
2.    American heavy metal band Manowar and English house/electronica group Leftfield were both recorded at a volume of 137 decibels. The latter allegedly causing plaster to fall from the roof of the Brixton Academy – now that’s bringing the house down!  
3.    At number three, we have a tie between three legendary rock bands Motorhead, ACDC and Led Zeppelin –all recorded at 130 decibels during live concerts in their prime
4.    The Who hit a sound level of 126 decibels during a concert in London in 1976.  
5.    And finally, at number 5, whilst there are no statistics available for the decibel levels achieved at Spinal Tap’s 2009 “One Date Only World Tour!” we do know that they turned it up to 11! *If this does not mean anything to you, please be sure to add the mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” to your film bucket list, it’s an absolute all-time classic*

Some serious decibels there, yet rock stars are not the only ones afflicted.  It might have happened at a rock concert or nightclub, or maybe whilst cruising the streets in your best friends first car - a souped-up number that possessed a sound system worth more than the vehicle itself.  Or if your younger life was less rock 'n' roll and more virtuous, it could have happened later, perhaps whilst attending something as seemingly innocuous as a wedding disco.  It could even have taken place in the safety of your home or family car when one of your children was having a toddler tantrum and emitted a horrific high-pitched scream a little too close to your ears.  

The circumstances vary considerably, but all of us have been exposed to an excessive noise level at some point in our lives.  And if you cast your mind back to when this happened, you will recall the after-effect: a horrible ringing sound in your ears.  Something that persisted for hours after the event and made you worry about whether you had permanently damaged your hearing.  Now imagine what it would be like if this level of sound was the norm in your place of work.  During soundchecks and concerts, the average rock star is exposed to a volume level of 120 decibels.  To put this into context: 

•    A normal conversation takes place at around 60 decibels.
•    A lawn mower produces around 90 decibels. 
•    Being exposed without hearing protection to sound above 85 decibels for any sustained period of time is harmful to long-term hearing.  

It goes without saying that when rock stars go on tour - whilst it may be lucrative - it is a risk to their hearing and therefore their very livelihoods.  So, with regular exposure to volume levels worthy of the Richter Scale, how do rock stars avoid going deaf?  These days professional musicians use earplugs to protect their ears from music and crowd noise, but this is a relatively modern phenomenon.  Many of the greats are now partially deaf, some due to exposure to excessive decibel levels in their early careers, for many a function of age.  

Whilst the thinking is fundamentally flawed, in most people’s minds, there is no greater sign of old age than having to wear hearing aids.  Therefore - especially for younger listeners - as soon as you get wind of the fact that I am about to talk about age-related hearing loss, your first instinct is likely to be to skip this bonus section.  This would be a serious mistake.
For most people, the knowledge that I am about to share with you, either right away or in the very near future, will empower you to dramatically and very positively influence the wellbeing and quality of life of someone you care deeply about.  Depending upon your age, it could be a parent, an uncle, or an aunt.  At some point, perhaps further in the future, it could be your partner or a close friend.  Ultimately one day it will be you.   If you care about the wellbeing of your family, I implore you to act on my message. Beware of the ostrich approach not rearing its ugly head once again! 

The Dangers of Separation from “The Heard” 

There is no point beating about the bush. Left untreated, loss of hearing is a slow, silent, killer:

•    A killer of a person’s ability to effectively communicate and function in society.
•    A killer of persons proactivity.
•    An extreme accelerant of the ageing process in so many other ways.

Even in the information age, real-time communication - our most valuable, necessary and rewarding medium of communication - is still primarily verbal.  So, when a person can’t hear well enough to understand what another person is saying to them it can become frustrating and exhausting to communicate.  So much so, that many just give up and withdraw from social engagement altogether. 

A number of recent studies have demonstrated a very clear association between untreated hearing loss and personal confidence, social isolation, loneliness, depression, cognitive decline and even dementia.
A 2018 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association analysed data from a sample of 150,000 people, aged 50 years or older, that were presenting with age-related hearing loss and no hearing aid use.  The study found that this untreated hearing loss was associated with 46% higher total healthcare costs for these people as well as:

•    52% greater risk of dementia.
•    41% higher risk of depression.
•    30% greater risk of falls.
•    50% more hospital stays.

It is critical to understand that there appears to be a coping threshold up to which people can muddle through, but age-related hearing loss is a downward trend and once this critical threshold is breached, a watershed moment is reached leading to a rapid impact on mental and then physical wellbeing.  You know when you have not seen an older person for a little while and then when you do see them again, they appear to have aged 10 years in what has only been six months or so?  In the absence of any major underlying illness, it is very likely that untreated hearing loss is the culprit.  

Having “The hearing conversation" with someone who needs it

Unless your retirement plan involves getting your hands on your inheritance within the earliest possible time-frame then I hope this resource will prove to be a welcome tool to help you to communicate why someone you care about needs to address their hearing loss.  However, there is no substitute for a personal face to face talk.  When it comes to hearing and hearing tests, in most cases, the ostrich approach strikes again, so it is very likely that you are still going to have to have “the talk.”   But I hope this next section makes it easier and improves your chances of success.

Freedom from Excuses

There are a number of reasons people choose to avoid addressing a loss of hearing: 

Denial - The initial hurdle is getting someone to go for a hearing check in the first place.  As we have already seen far too many people live in denial or adopt evasion and procrastination techniques. There is no denying it, hearing aids do tend to be needed by older people and many people resist because they feel that wearing a hearing aid is a psychological acceptance that they are getting old and after this, it will be a slippery slope – in terms of how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them.  As we have seen via the statistics from the American study, failing to address hearing loss will ultimately greatly accelerate the ageing process.  If you are listening to this with the volume turned up, because someone who cares for you has asked you to, then please consider the impact that a failure to address your hearing loss at an early stage is likely to have on them.  Denial is a very normal and natural response, but it is not a helpful one.  I have already set out at length where denial will take a person to.  It is not a place you want to go, or where you want to take your loved ones when there is something you can do about it. 

Having got over the first obstacle and having had a formal recommendation for the need for hearing assistance from a hear care professional, the second major hurdle is adoption.  A very high percentage don’t take the offer of a trial of hearing devices up or if they do, they either fail to take up the offer of a hearing aid or don’t wear the devices long enough and often enough to form a habit. 

Compared with other more widely adopted medical devices such as eyeglasses, hearing aids are much more complex and carry a higher price to manufacture and support.  In a normal market, a higher price to the end user for purchase and aftercare for the typical five-year lifespan of the device would be a barrier.  Yet here in the UK, hearing is not a normal market and therefore price is not the main barrier.  Whilst there is a thriving private market with some amazingly discrete, cutting-edge devices, hearing tests and hearing aids of a decent standard are offered to all who need them – completely free of charge via the NHS.  

Hassle/practical implications in using the technology - Hearing aids have batteries that need charging and the devices may need adjusting and tuning to adapt them for the different sound environments they are being worn in.  For example, they may need to be turned up for a country walk to allow the wearer to enjoy more of the ambient country sounds.  Whilst at a busy social meeting place, like a multi-generational family meal, a visit to a bustling coffee shop, a rock concert may require them to be turned down, or off! 

One of the biggest frustrations for hearing professionals is the fact that between a person needing assistance with their hearing and actually obtaining and regularly using some form of device to address the loss is on average seven years.  In the very elderly, precise handling and manipulation of relatively small devices can become a barrier as manual dexterity and/or vision decline.  Another very compelling reason for helping your loved ones avoid procrastination and to get them comfortable and familiar with the technology at an early stage.  This way ‘muscle’ memory may help them overcome these issues further down the line – to stop them falling off the “hearing loss watershed.”  

Things that can be done to improve the chances of adoption  

The NHS is a unique institution – admired with envy by the citizens of most other countries the world over - but the UK’s rapidly ageing population is placing a huge financial burden upon it.  In practice, this means that whilst it offers good, functional hearing products, it cannot offer the very best hearing aids in terms of aesthetics or acoustics.  And because of the time pressure of having to deal with such a high volume of patients, the amount of time that an audiologist can spend with any one patient is limited.  Moreover, traditional hospitals and NHS hearing centres can be located an inconvenient distance from their patients and appointments offered may be inconvenient and inflexible.  You may also see a different practitioner each time. 

The private market, therefore, offers a welcome and thriving supplementary service to the NHS.  Private practitioners have to charge for their services, but the additional cost offers many significant benefits.  For those who can afford it, it offers a greater chance of adoption by overcoming many of the key obstacles for hearing aid adoption.

Firstly, and foremostly private practitioners are able to offer the very best products: Likewise, without the same time pressures and budgetary constraints of their NHS colleagues, private practitioners are able to spend more time with their patients to provide a higher level of service to coach them and build their confidence to effectively use the devices.  You can also specifically choose the same audiologist each time.  Having worked with and sold private audiology practices I can vouch for the fact that patients frequently develop very strong trust relationships with private audiologists over very long periods of time.  Sometimes they are even able to go as far as being able to hook up their customers with community-based peer-counselling sessions. In other words, empathetic support form other similar hearing aid wearers who have mastered the technology and are willing to give up their time for the cause of helping others to do the same. 

There are also some really interesting and unexpected factors that it is believed can influence hearing aid adoption for both NHS and private offerings.  Astonishingly, the time of day that a person goes for their hearing test can have a significant influence on their likelihood of adoption of the technology.  Studies have demonstrated that the time of day and hunger can have a huge impact on an individual’s decision-making process. Studies both in laboratories and looking at real-world data sets have shown that people are less willing to take risks when they are hungry.  This data applies to the hearing sector – and to lots of other situations and scenarios too.  This is actually quite a significant piece of information that can be applied to lots of other areas of our lives!  So, if you want someone you care about to get some help with their hearing, make sure you avoid the pre-meal mid-day and 4 pm appointment slots and ideally get them to book in fairly soon after either their breakfast or lunch!  Personality, outlook and education level also have an impact on the likelihood of whether a person is likely to adopt hearing. 

Ok, that is enough about barriers and obstacles, it’s time to look at why hearing aids are set to become cool. Yes, you heard that right.  Hearing aids are about to become cool!  Sound ridiculous? Not so long-ago spectacles were seen as “square” and “geeky” and children used to get called “specky four eyes” and have the mickey taken out of them for wearing them.  These days you would be amazed by how many adults wear eyeglasses with clear, non-prescription lenses purely for image.  But with hearing technology, it is very much the function, rather than the form that is driving the change. 

Are hearing aids set to become the new smartphones?

The technology is advancing rapidly, and a heady combination of improved battery technology, miniaturisation and new software and applications, we are at a point where I can honestly say that hearing aids are on the verge of becoming cool. 

Do you remember seeing or using a smartphone for the first time?  It was revolutionary – an amazing fusion of different devices, incorporating a telephone, a camera/video camera, an alarm clock and a computer.  We are on the cusp of a similar breakthrough and fusion with technology worn within the ear. 

In the spring of 2019 Starkey Hearing Technologies released a new product range called Livio AI. With AI standing for artificial intelligence. There has been some debate as to whether the software truly is artificial intelligence, but there is absolutely no denying that this is an incredibly clever combination of hardware and software.  The devices go way beyond the standard hearing assistance functionality.  Some of the features that were once just science fiction are now just science.  Current functionality includes: 
How to wear hearing aids like a rockstar

A number of extraordinary global icons are known to have embraced hearing aids, to allow them to remain fully active and relevant, late into older age.  Their ranks include two former presidents of the United States, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. 

If you cast your mind back to the decibel levels exposed to in their place of work, it will come as no surprise that the Rock Star Hall of Fame also has included numerous stars who have adopted the technology.  The likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Eric Clapton and Martyn Kemp (Spandau Ballet).  The Who’s Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74) use a combination of in-ear hearing monitors/hearing aids and lip reading to allow them to keep performing.

Yet there is also one much notably younger star who may come as a surprise. 

At the time of writing, just 43 years old, indie-rock-folk artist KT Tunstall, whose most famous hits include “Black Horse and The Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” is 100% deaf in one ear and manages to tour with the remaining impaired ear assisted by a state of the art hearing aid. KT was not born this way, she had significantly better hearing when she first made it in the music, but when her hearing declined, she embraced the technology to allow her to prevail and continue to thrive. 

If these extraordinary people can stand in front of thousands and continue to communicate and perform, there surely can be no real excuse for anyone else.

Is there a problem with the name and image of hearing aids? 

There are plenty of examples of rock bands that changed their name and image before finally making it.   Would the hearing aid manufacturing industry benefit from a similar rebranding exercise and change of image? 

The word “Aid” sounds passive. We don’t tend to like to think of the fact that we need aid.  Charitable aid, hearing aid, home aid, band aid, walking aid – somehow the recipient sounds like a victim. 

We already see delivery drivers with blue tooth earpieces and those cool looking security guards who protect the president of the USA.  I am sure that adding functionality, and getting more younger people to use wearable technology in their ears, will overcome part of the stigma. 

Do you know anyone in denial about their hearing? I bet you do.  How hard have you tried to get them to sort it out?  Probably not hard enough!  Now that you know what you know, are you prepared to let this situation continue, and for the person to quietly slip over the threshold into accelerated ageing and mental and physical decline?  Or is it time to share this resource with them and to sit them down for a very serious chat?  Please do not let someone you care about “go gentle into that good night”  Instead, share this article with them. 
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