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Stanford Medicine magazine explores the art and science of listening and hearing

Stanford Medicine magazine explores how vital hearing and listening are for our well-being, and the science behind discoveries that could improve how we do both.

I don’t usually think deeply about what I'm hearing all around me. If I do, it’s because I’m trying to block out irritating noises — a leaf blower or barking dog next door, city traffic, a loud conversation nearby.

But our exploration for the new issue of Stanford Medicine — about listening — has made me reflect on the gift of being able to hear, and on sounds I’d miss if my world went silent: waves crashing on the shore, the squeals of a newborn baby, the voice of a friend, or the tunes that drift through the house when one of my boys is playing music.

The voices of loved ones and the sounds of nature were also things Ed Lutz missed when he started losing his hearing and before he got a good set of hearing aids. Lutz is featured in the “Hear and now” article, which also describes why better and less costly devices are on the horizon.

In his letter to readers, Stanford School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, explains why listening and hearing matter so much, and how research could go a long way toward solving the mysteries of hearing and hearing loss to improve our health.

In “Are you listening?” Minor and other physicians discuss the challenge of finding time to connect with patients on a human level, and the role empathy plays in health care, and one patient shares how her doctor's approach helped her make lasting lifestyle changes. “The relationship between a care provider and a patient is vitally important in determining the health and well‑being of the patient and the outcome of treatments,” Minor says.

Several articles explore research related to hearing, listening and sound in medicine:

  • In a Q&A, opera singer Renée Fleming explains why she is working with scientists to consider how music can improve overall health and well-being.
  • A biophysicist and otolaryngology professor is working with a physician-scientist to redesign a popular class of antibiotics to prevent the nasty side effect of causing deafness.
  • Researchers at the lab of professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery are tracking how birds regenerate crucial hearing cells so they can try to replicate the process in humans.
  • Researchers in several disciplines are tapping noise and acoustics for healing, including collecting recordings of the hums of disease-carrying mosquitoes so they can eradicate them, or manipulating heart cells into pattens to help heal heart disease. Still others are figuring out how the information captured by machines can improve diagnostics and treatment, and exploring the social, ethical and legal challenges that come from using them in medicine.

In this issue, you’ll also meet a 19-year-old woman who can now express her thoughts, intellect and humor through a speech iPad app; a doctor who uses a wheelchair and said it’s time for the medical field to be so inclusive that having a doctor with a disability is normal; and an infectious disease expert who builds kinetic sculptures to explain complicated science.

Illustration by Rich Tu

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