Canadian Musician - March/April 2023 | Page 29


How a Life Behind the Mic Taught Me About Hearing Health

By Alan Cross

My career in radio spans more than 40 years as a radio host , writer , reporter , and interviewer . To say that sound and audio are my life would not be far from the truth , since I spend most of my time listening and turning all I hear and learn into stories for radio listeners from across Canada and beyond . I have always been deeply obsessed with good audio , partly because I ’ m a huge music fan but mostly because I make my living through sound .

As an audiophile geek , I can ’ t imagine a life without the gift of sound and music , or for that matter the nagging necessity for getting good stories off my chest . But I know that as I get older ( and hopefully wiser !), hearing is one of those things that starts to decline for many of us , even if it ’ s in small ways . It can happen gradually as part of the aging process or can be caused by trauma or prolonged exposure to high levels of sound .
Take musicians . Some of the biggest names in music – from Beethoven to Trent Reznor and Chris Martin – have reported having at least some hearing loss or tinnitus ( the perception of ringing-like noise in your ears ). According to the Hearing Health Foundation ( HHF ), a non-profit funder of hearing research in the U . S ., musicians are four times as likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss than the general public . The percentage is higher for tinnitus ( musicians are 57 % more likely to develop tinnitus than other people ), which can interfere with your hearing but is not necessarily a precursor to hearing loss .
Some of the early signs of hearing loss for musicians include tinnitus , discomfort , or pain from loud noises , or developing a “ blind side ” in your hearing or feeling that you are losing hearing in only one ear . You also may be playing off-key , especially in the high frequencies ( your peer musicians , engineers , and producers may be the first to realize ). Last but not least , you may be experiencing increasing fatigue for no apparent reason or have trouble concentrating or following conversations .
The good news is that there are audiologists who specialize in treating music creators , and modern hearing aids are designed to tackle the most common challenges in the profession such as balancing the levels of loudness between speech and music . It has been only in recent years that technology has evolved to optimize hearing aids for both speech and music , understanding that music is louder ( in many cases much louder ) than speech . There are solutions that have it figured out ; handling louder music without distortion , and acting as invisible aids to support you in your work .
Of course , loud music not only affects musicians ’ hearing . HHF reports that there ’ s evidence that loud rock music , and the use of personal listening devices with earphones , can also take a lot of the blame for the rest of us .
Since I joined Widex as their sound ambassador in Canada , a lot of the knowledge I had about hearing , and hearing loss , has been confirmed . But I ’ ve also learned new things . How long it takes to get help is one of them . I was surprised to learn that on average , going from recognizing that you don ’ t hear so well anymore , to getting help , and to getting hearing aids , takes an average of seven years – seven years ! That ’ s a long time from the perspective of someone like me whose life is so connected to music and sound .
Most people contemplating hearing loss are reluctant to wear hearing aids . The reasons vary from pride and vanity , to not fully understanding how they work , or how advanced they are these days . Much of what you perceive as barriers to treatment are related to self-image and stigma , or the belief that hearing aids are “ for old people .”
But demographics tell a different story . According to StatsCan , 36 % of people aged 20 to 50 have what they call “ audiometrically measured ” hearing loss , and a whopping 73 % report having tinnitus .
We need to put hearing loss in perspective and get comfortable with it , no matter how old we are . Not hearing as well as you used to can cause strain on relationships , stress , and frustration . If I ’ ve learned one thing it ’ s that hearing aids can be life changing . It ’ s like putting on glasses for the first time – suddenly everything is so much more vivid and clear .
Based in Toronto , Alan Cross is one of Canada ’ s most recognized voices in radio . He is best known as host of the syndicated radio series The Ongoing History of New Music , Canada ’ s longest-running radio documentary . His career began in 1980 at the University of Winnipeg ’ s campus radio station , CKUW , and he is currently the station voice for Toronto ’ s legendary rock station Q107 and continues to supply programming to 102.1 The Edge . Alan recently joined Widex as the hearing aid manufacturer ’ s Sound Ambassador in Canada , a partnership designed to fight hearing loss stigma and raise awareness of the importance of hearing health . He can be reached at alan @ alancross . ca .