What’s the Buzz?

Buzz! Buzz! I recently participated as a research subject in a study focused on the Neosensory Duo. Honestly, I am thrilled with the results I experienced following Neosensory’s user-friendly tinnitus protocols. Wearable technology is all the rage, but the Duo is more than just…..well….buzz!

I first learned about sensory substitution devices at the 2016 United Kingdom Synaesthesia Association symposium at Trinity College, Dublin. Dr. Amir Amedi was the keynote speaker at that event, and he brought his device, the “EyeCane”, to Ireland. Rooted in synesthesia and the substitution of sound for sight, the EyeCane is a hand-held device about the size of a television remote control. It alerts with a series of sounds that help the person carrying the EyeCane to navigate their environment. At the post-lecture reception, anyone who wished to could be blindfolded, then placed in a curtained-off maze with the EyeCane in their hands. It was fascinating to follow the tones of the EyeCane as I easily walked my temporarily sight-impaired self out of the maze. You can find a research paper on Dr. Amedi’s EyeCane here.

Flash forward five years, four synesthesia symposia, and one awesome friendship. I have been aware of Neosensory’s efforts to create sensory substitution devices to assist those with hearing deficits because my good friend Lidell Simpson has been a pioneering research subject in that field. A few years ago, when Dell and I were hanging out in San Francisco, and trying to kill each other with our rapiers whilst filming the documentary “Human +”, he mentioned we should go to Palo Alto and visit with Dr. David Eagleman, the founder of Neosensory. We had a lovely conversation with Dr. Eagleman, where the three of us talked about synesthesia and the emerging field of wearable technology. I assumed devices like the ones we were discussing would be of benefit to people like Dell who have profound hearing deficits, but would not be applicable for hearing problems like the ones I have.

Dr. David Eagleman, CC Hart, and Lidell Simpson at Neosensory in Palo Alto, CA

I’ve had tinnitus my entire adult life. Many days it drives me positively mad. My tinnitus is a high pitched ringing sound, greater on the right than left, that is annoying in and of itself, but is made worse because it can make it hard for me to fall asleep. And if I wake up at night to a very quiet house and quiet neighborhood, it’s really hard to fall back to sleep because the shrill tones of my tinnitus take over. But what makes my tinnitus really hard to ignore is the visuals that accompany the sound. I have sound->color/pattern synesthesia and my tinnitus is a messy swirl of bubblegum and salmon pink. It has tentacles of a sort and a spiky blue and yellow center. When my tinnitus is at its worst, the blue center becomes very sharp edged, like shards of broken glass. 

I’m somewhat active on the Nextdoor platform for my neighborhood, and a few months back, a neighbor posted that Neosensory was looking for subjects to try a new device focused on tinnitus. I filled out a questionnaire, and was placed in a study where I used the Neosensory Duo for 8 weeks. Mostly, I interacted with the Duo at night because I found the combination of wearing the wristband, feeling the buzzing sensations, and listening to the tones on my phone via the Neosensory app to be quite relaxing. Also, because my tinnitus bugs me the most at night, I thought using the Duo in the evening might help with my sleep.

It took a few weeks of use for me to begin to notice the difference, but incrementally, my tinnitus became less and less pervasive. The way I described it to a friend was that “I had to go looking for it”, meaning my tinnitus wasn’t dominating my cognitive space. With the Duo, my tinnitus became fainter, not only acoustically, but visually. My sound->color/pattern synesthesia surrounding my tinnitus changed in both shape and hue, the pink not so bright, and the blue not so jagged. For me, my synesthetic experience with the decrease in tinnitus symptoms was my proof positive that the device works.

I’m excited by the emerging field of wearable technologies, and for the ways these devices have the potential to foster health, wellness, and safety. It’s also cool to recognize that synesthesia has informed research into sensory substitution. I hope there is continued buzz around blended senses and neuroscience as drivers for technological innovation.

My tinnitus after 8 weeks using the Neosensory Duo device/tinnitus program