If you are like me one of the most heartbreaking aspects of brain injury is the isolation which is often the result of brain injury. We cannot do the things we used to do, we have problems dealing with those we love and we often find it difficult to navigate the world at large. Heightened or rather unfiltered senses can make crowds, restaurants, trains, buses, stores and malls a nightmare: they sap energy, disorient and in some cases place us in situations in which we cannot control our emotions or tempers. In other situations the sounds so disorient us that our personal safety is put at risk. Oddly, the only people who really understand are those with hearing aids: they turn them off or avoid the situations where noise is present at all. While we frequently adopt the latter solution by removing ourselves from the source of the noise, we are unable to turn off the sound.
We go out at quieter times, or not at all. Some of us have others do our shopping for us and isolate ourselves in our homes. We try in vain to find a solution to our isolation: Isolation which impedes our recovery. I have tried every imaginable ear plug: they are not the most comfortable and blot out all sound, including the sound you want to hear, or they result in you being aware of the blood pulsing in your ears, and the pounding of your feet as you walk. I gave up. The result understandably was further isolation. Friends stop inviting you when you obviously do not enjoy the activity, or are exhausted by the stimulus even a barbecue creates, or when they constantly have to be aware of what you are doing for fear of your safety. And then a miracle last winter - a fellow survivor mentioned musician’s ear plugs and how they allowed her to attend a wedding and fly on a plane.
Musicians Earplugs has changed my life. Since my injury my social life has been that of a monk. Within the first month I was able to attend a dinner party, go to the movies (yes I wear them in the movies), and go out to dinner. My sister said that within the first two months I had been out more than the entire time since my injury. This past Christmas season I accepted every invitation, people found me able to follow conversations more, that I lasted longer, and that I was able to participate. One warning though, it does not mean that your brain injury goes away. I was so excited with the performance of the ear plugs that I accepted all those invitations, forgot to pace, didn’t take my naps, and spent the next two weeks completely without energy, sleeping most of the day and unable to participate in just about anything until I recharged my depleted batteries.
Now what are they and where can you get them. You go to an audiologist who takes a mould of your ear. You are fitted as if it were a hearing aid. It is not a hearing aid. It has a small filter in it which with the fitted plug that filters out various sounds. My audiologist would not guarantee anything even though she had previously fitted my friend as she felt it depended on the nature of the sensitivity and the nature of my injury, but since obtaining the ear plugs my physiatrist has recommended them to patients with sound sensitivities. My plugs cost under a $200.00 and were not taxable, and as they are a medical device I suspect they are deductable. You may wish to see if they are available through a script or your insurance plan, they were on mine. These earplugs will allow you to participate in a conversation with someone beside you in a restaurant. In a really loud place you will still hear noise, but you will be shocked at the noise level if you take them out. You are still going to have to use all the strategies you already use, but your quality of life will be better, you will be less isolated and able to participate more in the world.