By Anne Forline
Gloucester City News
“I remember exactly when it first happened. It was New Year’s Day, 2011,” Connie recalled.
“I was sitting in my lounge chair in the living room when I first heard loud music playing. I thought it was coming from my next door neighbor playing the radio, so I pressed my ear to the wall to get a better listen,” Connie said.
“I thought that’s what it was – the neighbor playing the radio. Then, I walked into the kitchen and the music followed me.”
Connie, a long-time South Jersey resident, continued, “From that day on, the music has stayed with me. The music plays in my head. Actually, it’s in my left ear, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas carols and hymns from start to finish,” she said.
No matter what Connie does, the music in her left ear remains constant. She has grown accustomed to hearing melodies like “Silent Night” segue directly into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Connie elaborated, “There’s no lull between the songs, and I can’t change or pick them.”
As a former member of her church’s choir, Connie can also differentiate between the altos and sopranos.
When she speaks on the telephone, the music’s volume merely decreases and plays softly, but is still present. Once the phone call ends, the volume increases. If she watches a television show, she still hears the music.
When Connie realized the music in her ear was not going away, she did not know what to do.
As a twice widowed, active 86-year-old who still drives, Connie waited the better part of a week to tell her daughters.
She was certain they would determine, “The angels are coming” or that Alzheimer’s disease or dementia had set in.
After Connie ultimately confided in her daughters, they took her to her family doctor. He had never heard of a condition such as this.
A visit with an audiologist yielded a similar response. Connie’s daughters were desperate for a diagnosis or information about what their mother was experiencing. So, they turned to the internet for answers.
They were relieved when they discovered information that validated their mother’s symptoms. Connie’s condition was certainly real and not imagined.
They found that a name to associate with this mysterious condition. It is “Musical Ear Syndrome,” and also referred to as auditory hallucinations.
Neil G. Bauman, Ph.D, is a researcher and executive director of Center for Hearing Loss Help. He is author of the book, “Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music & Spooky Sounds,” and believes many people experience “phantom sounds.”
In his book, he defined Musical Ear Syndrome as “hearing phantom sounds (auditory hallucinations) of a non-psychiatric nature, often musical, but also including voices and other associated sounds, commonly found in, but not limited to elderly, hard of hearing people with tinnitus who lack adequate stimulation.”
Dr. Bauman enumerated five symptoms that seem to predispose people to hearing phantom sounds. He noted that a person does not have to exhibit all five conditions in order to have Musical Ear Syndrome.
The person is often elderly, hard of hearing, lacks adequate auditory stimulation, almost always has tinnitus and is often anxious, stressed or depressed.
He also wrote that females typically report hearing sounds, and of those who contact him concerning auditory hallucinations, 75 percent of the inquiries come from women.
However, Dr. Bauman believes that men are just as likely to experience this condition.
In his book, he explained, “Far more women than men are willing to speak up and seek help for their auditory hallucinations, just like they do when they have hearing losses or other medical conditions. In addition, since women typically live longer than men, many end up as widows. They typically live alone in quiet environments – another factor in hearing auditory hallucinations.”
Dr. Bauman reported that people have been dealing with Musical Ear Syndrome for many years.
“Composer Robert Schuman also heard auditory hallucinations toward the end of his life. At night, he heard musical notes and believed that he heard an angelic choir singing to him. He also heard the music of Beethoven and Schubert.
“He jotted down the music in 1854 and called it the ‘Theme (WoO, 1854).’ He said he was taking dictation from Schubert’s ghost.”
Although many doctors and medical professionals do not know a lot about Musical Ear Syndrome or how to treat it, Dr. Bauman offers hope and strategies to help cope.
He thinks it is important to try to keep stress levels low and to consult with a doctor to rule out other medical conditions.
“There are many drugs that can cause auditory hallucinations. Those medications include blood pressure and anti-depression medications.”
As for Connie, she has accepted her condition and has learned to live with it. She does not let it affect her day-to-day life.
She still exercises three times a week, for an hour each time. Sometimes, she will sing along to the music and is grateful that the music does not keep her awake at night.
“It could be worse. I don’t think, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I try not to dwell on it and am thankful to God that the songs I hear are holy hymns, and not rock ‘n’ roll,” she said.
“If rock’ n ’roll music constantly played in my ear, then I think I would go out of my mind,” Connie added with a big laugh.
For information about Musical Ear Syndrome, go to: hearinglosshelp.com.
Dr. Bauman’s book can be ordered in either paperback or as a “pdf” version.