My first bionic Christmas, anno 2009

Christmas is creeping up on us again 🙂christmas-tree

This year it will bring a whole new dimension for me. I can engage in social activities with my family without “burning out” before the presents are handed out by Santa Claus. I look forward to this years Christmas, as opposed to the last few years where I dreaded the oncoming Christmas season.

Hearing-wise, my brain is slowly “repairing” the sound. But it’s still hollow-sounding, glassy-like and voices still don’t have their distinct signatures. But yesterday I could almost tell the difference between my youngest sisters voice, and my mothers. I say almost, because I can tell there IS a difference, but I just can’t tell WHICH one of them are speaking without looking at them. Yet! mind you 🙂

I started listening-training many weeks back, but wasn’t happy with the first therapist, so I made arrangements to get someone else, and this time I am happy. The first session with the new therapist was just like I was looking for, minimal waste of time small talking, and very methodic and systematic testing and a some real challenging sounds to figure out, and hopefully learn from. I’m up for a new session tomorrow, and then another one right over into the new year. I think this training comes at a good time for me.

innenohr The last balance-organ-snafu ordeal is behind me, things are feeling better, just slight imbalance at times. I feel ready to take on the things that needs to be taken on. I want to get back to normal life, even though I have forgotten how THAT was like…  I have to admit, I’m a bit scared and anxious to go empty again. I’m holding back, wisely I hope, but at the same time, I don’t want to hold back too much, stopping myself from getting to where I want to get…

I had real ambition training with audio books, but something has stopped me from engaging actively into it. I started with an English (Norwegian is my primary language) audio book: Ken Follet: Pillars of the Earth. That was two mistakes: firstly, listening to English should be secondary to listening to my first language. Secondly, it dawned on me that I actually have READ this book way back! It took a few pages to remember, but when Toms family met this strange woman and her son in the forest, a suspicion arose in me. And when Agnes a little while later dies from childbirth, I was sure. Tom and this strange outlaw woman in the forest will meet again later. OK, it is a very good book, and I will read it again, in order to pick up the sequel later on (I really want to read that one, and think it will be more enjoyable having the first one fresh in mind). but I need more motivation to work with an audio book.

roy jacobsen So, I will pick up a Norwegian book I haven’t read before, borrowed from Movale, a friend of mine. This book is a classic in Norwegian literature, describing the development of the historic and cultural foundation on which today’s Norway is built on (through the story of one family). It is written by Roy Jacobsens and it is called “Seierherrene” (meaning “The Victors” I can’t find an English translation of that book :-(  ).

I think I subconsciously have been avoiding working TOO hard with sound. I remember I read on one of my good friends blog that it is important to find audio-training that doesn’t exhaust you too fast. I can totally back up that statement. Our brain needs TIME to sort out the sounds. Yes you can help progress by actively listening and try to sort out the sounds, but doing that too much will also be counterproductive. Within a short time it is a real danger that your brain will cease to have the energy that is necessary to do the subconscious and automatic processing of sounds. Also you need to preserve SOME energy for the people you have around you and who wants to talk to you 🙂

I too, think it’s important to find ways to listen to massive amounts of sound in a passive and relaxing way. Then, when you talk to people, you can use that extra gear… That is training enough, if you have people around you a few hours every day.

My beloved girlfriend bought me a new set of headphones for Christmas: “Creative Aurvana X-fi” (review here). (we are like children and can’t wait until Christmas to open our presents :-)  ). I can’t say that I’m in nirvana, sound-wise, but it was definitely a very nice boost in sound-quality for me. Also, knowing that I have very good sound input, close to optimal, relaxes me. I can’t do much more about that bit now. Now it’s just up to my brain and myself. My brain does the hard work with the as enjoyable sounds as possible I need to feed it with. Spotify is a great thing 🙂

(I just understood almost the ENTIRE commercial break: “Hi, this is Jonathan from Spotify…..” hooray! Progress! Yes, I have used Jonathan as a test to see if I make progress.)

Flying_V_guitar.svg.hi Apropos music… It’s so hard to describe the progress I have, but have to give it a go anyway: Bass is coming into place. Bass is the engine of the power in the music and therefore is essential to musical enjoyment. I can hear voices much better; I’m able to distinguish the various instruments, I am pretty good at identifying which kind of instrument is being played (in music I know somewhat from before). Voices have more melody in them. I can hear if the voice goes up or down, if it’s one or many voices simultaneously. I’m listening to much more various bands (my old favorites) now. It’s instantly recognizable, and lyrics are coming fast back to me :-)  BLISS!!!

There is something about the brain-halves… I read somewhere that the left brain-half is pretty much working with semantics and understanding context, while the right brain half is dedicated to the more spiritual, artistic, emotional and colorful aspect of sense-inputs.

OK; this blog post is getting too long, time to round off: I’m focusing much more on listening to voices WITHOUT actively deciphering the information. I’m trying to teach my brain to do it automatically. This refers back to my previous bog post about “Rewiring my brain – altering the language system”. Also my new audio therapist suggested I focus more on that (she did not know I wrote that last post!). I then got the confirmation I needed; I’m pretty much thinking and handling things the right way…

I want to congratulate FUNNYOLDLIFE with her life-altering decision to go for CI, and wish her good luck with that!

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year, to all my readers!

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Rewiring my brain – altering the language system?

brainscan

How a person understand and interpret speech is an extremely complex process involving the synaptic responses to the physics of sound, neural activity in the nervous system and brain, and ultimately the processing of those neural impulses in various regions of our brain.

Scientists have started mapping those regions of our brains by watching what happens inside the brain through MRI, PET or other means of scanning technology. Also, people who have had damage to their brains have helped us gaining more understanding about which parts of our brains does what.

Speech and language, meaning the vocal transfer of meanings, feelings, ideas, ideologies, experiences and everything else human beings exchange and communicate, are processed through various parts of our brain.

Some of the components of speech and language processing in our brains are about (I’m sure there are many, many more, each specializing in it’s own incredible way!)
1. acoustic processing
2. visual processing for lip reading
3. phonology
4. semantic processing (vocabulary)
5. short- and long term memory (previous context, experience, reference)
6. visuoauditory, meaning that the brain both processes and somehow merges each individual sensory input (bisensory – vision and hearing); keep in mind, we don’t fully understand everything about our brains functions yet.
7. contextual processing
8. “alternative contextual qualified guessing” (you might also call it fantasy 🙂  ) when all other understanding strategies fails, it’s the last attempt of understanding, and results in either a question, embarrassment or success

OK, that was the crash course in what we know about how our brains processes speech in a oversimplified manner.

Taking that info into account, think about what happens if the signals changes radically? What happens when a hearing-aid user, de facto deaf (unable to comprehend speech without the sensory aid of hearing aids, or contextual aid of sign language, lip reading or written text), is fitted with a CI or two?

In my case: what happens when I have suffered from “recruitment” while using my hearing aids for many years, and then suddenly both the recruitment is gone, AND the perceived frequencies have shifted totally out of it’s previously normal neural pathways starting with the hair cells in my cochlea.

My implant feeds electronic impulses to the part of my cochlea array of left-for-dead, broken hair-cells, while the previously still somewhat functional part now is left abandoned, not receiving any kind of stimuli anymore. (it’s like playing a piano on the octaves situated on the far left side for your whole life, and suddenly someone moves the entire piano so that you now sit on the far right!)

MEart1Well, obviously my brain has some work to do! The rewiring of the neural pathways are one thing, and the brains processing are another. I believe we can agree that the neural rewiring both in our nervous system, and in our brains (which I agree, is in fact part of our nervous system) is about new synaptic paths forming, adjusting our nervous system to the new sensory reality.

But what about the brains’ processing of these sensory inputs? The part of my brain that performs acoustic processing adjusts to the change in frequencies, the new auditory virtual reality slowly becomes THE reality, due to the lack of, and loss of the old auditory reality.

The phonology of all words have changed, how does my brain cope with that? Rewiring, relearning.

The short-term memory function now has to deal with input data that are totally new in appearance. It doesn’t sound like before. A streetcar doesn’t sound like a streetcar. A woman in high heels sound like a carpenter hammering down a nail. A kid laughing sounds like an animal dying. A kid crying sadly sounds like a anger fit.

Do you see where I’m getting at? The change in the quality of the sound perceived, also changes the contextual package, ie. what my brain interpret that specific sound to be, also decides my initial contextual and sometimes emotional processing. So now my contextual database also has to be reprogrammed.

The long term memory databank contains data that are now invalid. My mothers voice doesn’t match her voiceprint in my brain. All the people I have learned to identify by their speech patterns (how they pause, how they etc) now needs to be reprogrammed. It’s like having to change your entire music collection of vinyl to low quality compressed digital music (like computerized music in the MP3 format).

Borg I will forget the old information, and fill it up with the new. All as the “Borgs” in Star Trek says: “You will be assimilated.”

If the part of my brain that does the acoustic processing changes it’s algorithms, I assume it’s fair to expect a change in the output from that process, consequently leading to the fact that the part of my brain that is the recipient of of the processed audio, now being “re-digitalized”, also have to change THEIR algorithms!

In that way, my entire language system is presently under a complete and heavy and thorough modification.

I have noticed this in the following ways:

I can “hear” better, but I have problems remembering the first part of the sentence that I hear, OR I only perceive the first part, my brain skips the last part of a sentence. I deduct from this “brain rewiring hypothesis”, that my short-term memory is having trouble storing the strange sounding words in it’s flash memory. The input data kind of doesn’t fit properly.

The other parts of my language system also sometimes suffer from overload or fault, causing a crash. Like when ambient noise occurs, and the voice I listen to drowns in that noise, my contextual and visual processing brain part needs to take over, but since I have been so focused on the auditory processing (due to the new and strange sounding quality), the take-over comes just a little bit too slow to be able to follow the person talking…

Think of this last paragraph like trying to follow an intricate discussion about a complex issue while having two or three kids climbing all over you, demanding attention. Sometimes they DO get your attention, and what happens then with the discussion you were following?

That’s when my “alternative contextual qualified guessing” kicks into gear 🙂

And this time I won’t even get into the emotional and psychological aspect of this brain-rewiring process that I’m currently undergoing… 🙂  I think each and every one of you who reads this can imagine the psychological and emotional implications for yourself.

Some things are best left unsaid?