When he entered the military as a young man, doctors determined he already had a significant hearing loss. As he aged, the problem only grew worse. At 91 he reached a point where something had to be done.
"I couldn't hear anything, nothing and depended completely on lip reading," Gray said.
While his hearing had deteriorated, his active lifestyle had not. Gray is still very involved in business and is a frequent public speaker. The loss of hearing made it difficult for him to do that because lip reading during business meetings can be difficult and impossible during phone conferences.
Like many older adults, high pitched hearing is lost with age.
"He's only had low pitched hearing and not high pitched hearing and when you have only low pitched hearing you can hear volume of speech but not the clarity," Ginny Kitch Lupo, an audiologist at the University of Colorado Hospital, said. "I kind of think of it as Charlie Brown's teacher and so if you're not looking all you hear is that, 'Whaw, whaw, whaw,' without really understanding what the person's saying. So I think that's what he's been hearing for decades."
Gray finally reached a point where hearing aids were not helping. A solution was recommended by his close friend, Dr. Marion Downs. At 94, Downs is the woman credited with pioneering hearing tests for infants. She suggested Gray get a cochlear implant.
"Dr. Downs is an audiologist and she has encouraged me to do this and under the circumstances because we're partners, I took her advice," Gray said.
The surgery for the cochlear implant took two hours. Gray got only one implant. Medicare covers the cost of a single implant for qualifying seniors and audiologists have found that older adults do well a single implant and a hearing aid on the other ear.
Two weeks later, the implant was ready to be activated. Audiologists have found that adults react differently to the activation than children. Because some children have no past experience with hearing, they often are startled or frightened initially by the introduction of sound. Older adults, who have lost their hearing over time, simply have to relearn how to process the sound.
Once Gray's implant was turned on, the first voice he heard was of Downs. As she started to read a Dr. Seuss book to him he interrupted her and said, "Is that what you sound like?"
It will take several weeks for him to fully adjust to hearing sounds again. Once he has, the cochlear implant should allow him to hear for the rest of his life. It will also allow him to be more involved socially, a common problem for older adults who lose their hearing.
"Isolation is a very good word because if you can't communicate with people around you, your friends and your loved ones, then you start to feel more and more isolated," Kitch Lupo said.
The cochlear implant will allow Gray to avoid that isolation.
"I can be part of the crowd again," Gray said.
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