Update & Pics: BAHA 5 Attract

Getting used to the BAHA was more of a challenge than I expected, but I’m happy to say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I can hear!  While at first it was fairly depressing to realize how much I was missing without the Attract, I’ve since revelled in newfound self-confidence and noticed a significant decrease in social anxiety. Recovery was remarkably quick and I rarely experience discomfort or soreness at the magnet site anymore.

When starting this blog, I set out to share my experience in hopes that a few people may benefit from it. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive so much positive feedback!

Some follow-up and responses to popular questions:

  • Is the Baha knocked off easily?
    • I can confirm that the Attract can be knocked loose and fall to the ground easier than I had hoped – it’s happened to me more than a few times. However, the processor comes with a clear fishing line-type of string and a clip so that the user can attach it to clothing to minimize the chance it would hit the ground. (I wonder if someone with the Baha Connect can comment on this – seems that it would be more secure with an abutment?)
      • Edit: 3/15/17: This issue is my biggest complaint about the baha attract currently. I’m fairly disappointed at how easily it can fall off (e.g. pretty much any time I move my hair, taking off my seatbelt). If it hits the ground, there’s not only the immediate panic that the processor could have been damaged from the fall, but also the annoying process of trying to find and reattach it in a public space.
  • How is the sound? Any issues?
    • Because I have the Baha on one side only, I struggle with identifying where sounds originate. The obvious solution to this is to get Baha on both sides (eventually).
    • Because I rarely notice sounds that used to annoy me (shadowy, tin-like sounds), I think my brain filters some of that out.
    • Whenever there is a high pitched noise, I get awful feedback from my Baha. I’ve been told this is something an audiologist can help with, though.
  • Visibility / placement: Does it stick out? Can you hide it with your hair?
    • While the Baha 5 doesn’t stick out that far, it is definitely visible. Wearing my hair down helps cover it, but I am blessed with quite a bit of hair. If you’re worried about it, talk to your ENT about placement options (low enough so that baseball caps and sunglasses don’t touch it and far back enough to minimize visibility). See pictures below.
    • In the beginning, I got loud, intense feedback whenever my hair touched the Baha at all, which is clearly problematic given that I wore my hair down to conceal it; however, my audiologist made an adjustment in the settings and I haven’t had that issue since.
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Hair up, side view

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Hair up, front view

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Hair down, side view

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Hair down, back view

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Hair down, front view

 

The grass is always greener…

Spoiler alert: life amplified isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe I’m still adjusting? All I know for sure is that no one told me how loud everything is. Oh, and the music in the mall sucks.

Life is so weird. I couldn’t hear, but now I can. Shouldn’t that make me happy? Why is all of this so overwhelming? No one warns you about the emotional side effects of suddenly being able to hear. Sure, there are a bunch of YouTube videos that show The Moment –you know, when a non-hearing person hears for the first time and everyone bursts into happy tears — but that’s not the whole story. If the video kept rolling for weeks and months, we might witness a non-linear emotional rollercoaster of happiness, anger, frustration, serenity, and despair. But why? I can’t explain it – it’s not logical. It’s an emotional minefield populated by years of denial and hope and justifications. Detonation wreaks anger and joy simultaneously. It’s tears of happiness and gratitude that turned to grief so suddenly that I have to stop everything and wonder if I’m losing my goddamn mind. Still don’t get it? Yeah, me neither.


Update: The stimuli can be overwhelming, but I can say in no uncertain terms that the decision to get the BAHA attract was absolutely the best choice I could’ve made for my quality of life. It’s been a couple of weeks now and – although I don’t have much more clarity about it now than I did three weeks ago – I can’t imagine not going through with the procedure. Emotions are complicated and – pretty much by definition – the opposite of logic. I can’t explain why it makes me sad at times, or why when I talk about it sometimes I feel empowered while other times I feel embarrassed. I wish I had a better understanding of the psychology of it all. For now, all I can do is just keep on keeping on and try to remember to let myself feel all of it while pausing for reflection and gratitude whenever possible.

Pros and Cons: Attract vs. Connect

There is a surprising lack of non-clinical information out there regarding the BAHA Attract (magnet). Maybe because it’s relatively new technology? Or maybe it’s because Attract people are just so excited to be living their life in stereo and maintenance-free that they forgot to report back.  Who knows. But for me, the pressure to make a decision is on! Only one week until surgery and I still can’t confidently choose one.  After hours of research and countless questions for my ENT, I have a list of pros and cons** I’d like to share.

Placement: Because the Attract (magnet) must be placed on the most flat area behind the ear (for the surface area of the magnet to connect), there is considerably less flexibility regarding where it’s placed. And placement is important! If you wear hats/baseball caps, sunglasses, bicycle helmets, cold-weather stuff, etc. then having control over where the processor connects to your head is important. 1 Point for Connect (abutment)

Maintenance: Obviously, the Connect (abutment) requires a significant amount of cleaning and maintenance relative to the Attract. It’s a post that sticks out of your head! Some people report recurring infection, skin irritation at the post site (off and on for years!) and discomfort or pain if the post is bumped (especially in the first 6 months to a year). Also, there’s a concern that the skin will grow over the abutment (in which case you would need to get a longer abutment — side note, a longer abutment means the whole thing sticks out from your head further/potentially more noticeable, if that matters to you). The attract (magnet) simply sits below the skin and – once it’s healed – doesn’t require upkeep or cleaning. 1 Point for Attract

Post surgery and recovery time: The time between surgery and activation for the Attract (magnet) is approximately 5-6 weeks whereas the Connect (abutment) could require 3 months, or more! And the healing process for the Attract is easier, since it’s just an incision. 1 Point for Attract

Interference: In the event that you ever need a MRI (hopefully you don’t!), the magnet aspect of the Attract will be a problem. In contrast, the Connect (just a titanium post) won’t be an issue. (To be fair, I have read that getting the magnet removed is a fairly easy procedure — local anesthesia, can be done in the doctor’s office — but it’s something important to note.) 1 Point for Connect

Size: Without the processor, the Attract (magnet) is incognito! The Connect (abutment) system requires a post that will always protrude from the skin. 1 Point for Attract

Visibility (the vanity part): If you’re like me, the ability to hide the fact that I’m wearing a hearing aid matters! When I meet someone for the first time, I want that person to see my smile first, not my hearing aid. However, designating a clear winner in this category is a little harder. On the one hand, I’ve been told that Attract (magnet) sticks out from the head further because there’s a processor + the size of the external magnet (about the size of a quarter in diameter and maybe a little less than twice the thickness, approx 4 mm-ish). For the connect (abutment), the size of the abutment isn’t necessarily the same for everyone. We can’t know if you or I will be one of the unlucky people who has to get a longer abutment due to skin growing over the post (or simply because you have thicker skin). And it also depends on hair style, which could change over time – obviously having short hair will make it harder to hide the processor. No points. (Also important to note, I was told the size of the magnet is only slightly bigger than the standard abutment – like a millimeter or two. So it’s arguably not even worth taking into consideration.)

Sound quality: Because the attract transmits sound through the external magnet, then skin and hair, then the internal magnet, there are more layers/potential barriers for sound to travel. The connect on the other hand “connects” directly to the bone. However, for me this doesn’t matter so much. I still have some hearing in both ears (I’m hearing impaired, not deaf), so the degree of hearing difference between the attract and the connect for me would be minimal enough that I probably wouldn’t notice. No points

Judging by this pro/con list, it looks like I’d be better off with the Attract. (Did I just make a decision?! Huzzah!) But this is a very personal journey! Your pro/con list could be completely different depending on your priorities, extracurricular activities, degree of hearing loss, etc. And it’s important to note the downsides of any hearing aid – constant battery replacement, the feedback (usually when it gets too close to something like a pillow when in bed), potentially losing it if it falls off (although there’s a safety line or more fashionable alternatives to this problem). There are a lot of things to consider when making this decision — I only hope that my list can help in some way.

What did I miss? Please leave a comment if there are additional factors that should be included in a pro/con list about the BAHA Attract vs. Connect.

** Disclaimer!! I’m just a girl with access to google – not a doctor or professional in the hearing-aid business. If you have questions about how the attract and the connect differ, ask your ENT or surf on over to the cochlear website to request more information.

About Me

“Hearing impaired” – ugh. I hate that label.

As a 28 year old woman with chronic bilateral conductive hearing loss, I have been fighting to gain and retain decibels for as long as I can remember. From failed “sure-fire” solutions to fingers-crossed experimental procedures, I have been in and out of the hospital for 2 decades in search of “normal hearing” (whatever that means). Although complicated and confusing, suffice it to say that my condition is rare and terribly inconvenient. When I was 12 years old, we found an ENT who actually recognized my symptoms and suggested a course of treatment that has required maintenance surgeries approximately every other year for more than 10 years. Dr. V – we will call him – explained that the maintenance surgeries would buy me 1-2 years of functional hearing in between procedures with the hope that, by my late-20’s, surgery would no longer be necessary (a theory based on age-specific hormonal and enzymatic changes in my body). Yet here I am, in my late-20’s getting ready for my second surgery in 6 months and still struggling to hear on a daily basis. Thus, I realized that I needed to consider Plan B: the world of auditory technology.

To be clear, I have adamantly rejected any hearing-aid related solutions in the past. Part vanity and part stubborn denial of both the severity of my hearing loss and the reality of my situation, I truly believed that I could become a card-carrying member of the hearing-abled society if only I had a little more patience.  However, a recent ENT helped me see the importance of having a back-up plan, even if it’s only temporary until we have a better understanding of my condition. He is particularly enthused about new-ish technology for conductive hearing loss patients known as the BAHA Attract – a magnetic bone anchored hearing aide that allows sound to bypass the troublesome middle ear area by connecting directly to the skull behind the ear. We’re talking magnets, titanium, super computer processors, and bluetooth enabled accessories — like, real life bionic woman stuff! Needless to say, I was intrigued.

When I experienced the Bone Anchored Hearing Aide (BAHA) simulator 2 weeks ago, I knew my life would never be the same.  I was hearing things that I didn’t realize possible – papers rustling in my bag, footsteps in the hallway, conversations happening in the adjacent room – and being told that’s what I should be hearing – that’s “normal.” Immediately afterwards, I experienced an overwhelming rush of emotions that is hard to explain. Although the experience should have resulted in unbridled joy and excitement, I was overcome with resentment and sadness as I thought about how much of my life I’ve been missing. I was angry at myself for not acting on this option sooner and angry at my doctors for not pushing me harder to consider alternatives to surgery. And I was mourning the loss of the unaided hearing-abled version of myself I had hoped was possible throughout 20 years of medical prodding, ENT specialists, and operating rooms. Suddenly, I was facing the reality that I was going to be the girl with the hearing aide. And you know what? I’m ok with it. For me, it’s better than being the girl who can’t hear.