Hearing vs understanding. What is the difference?

August 2, 2013 by Julie Caya
While it‘s easy to hear sounds such as the roar of a car’s engine, it can be difficult to understand the person speaking beside us in a restaurant.

What is it that destroys these high frequencies and causes problems – in understanding words?

Our sound environment is the first factor to consider. Workplace noise (factories, nurseries, construction sites, etc.), using personal music equipment for several consecutive hours a day, nightclubs, etc., to name just a few examples, destroys the high frequency hair cells, causing what’s known in hearing healthcare circles as a “ski slope hearing loss” (a precipitous decrease in hearing sensitivity for high frequency test signals).

This type of hearing loss, which primarily affects high frequency hearing sensitivity, is hard for individuals to detect. It’s usually a slow, gradual process. It’s still easy to hear noise, thanks to our still-intact low frequency hearing sensitivity, but it becomes more and more difficult to understand speech in noisy places such as restaurants, because high frequency hearing sensitivity, which is necessary for speech comprehension, is damaged.

We listen but we don’t understand

In most cases, people who are developing a hearing loss often claim that everyone is mumbling or not speaking clearly, and that they themselves don’t have a problem.

In quiet environments, such people can communicate relatively well. However, whenever there are 4 or 5 people chatting at a table in a restaurant, it becomes difficult to distinguish between words. At this stage, it becomes clear that quality of life is being adversely affected. It becomes necessary to ask people to repeat themselves, the TV volume is turned up too much for partners to tolerate, and it’s common to withdraw from favourite group activities because communication has become too difficult. Eventually, a person can become quite isolated.

“Open fit hearing aids” were developed specifi-cally for ski-slope (high frequency) hearing losses. Don’t hesitate to consult your audioprosthetist at one of Lobe Santé auditive et communication’s clinics to obtain more information about them.