Kent Taylor’s struggle with tinnitus is personal to me

The founder of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain committed suicide on March 18, 2021. Most would suspect that Kent Taylor had overwhelming financial or family problems.

He did not.

What drove him to take his own life was tinnitus, which started after his struggle with COVID-19.

It persisted and grew so distracting that the founder and chief executive of the restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse Inc. had trouble reading or concentrating. Mr. Taylor told one friend he hadn’t been able to sleep more than two hours a night for months.

Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2021

It’s personal, because I was recently diagnosed with tinnitus. Rest assured, my affliction will not drive me to the desperate action taken by Kent Taylor. Yet, I understand his struggle with a condition for which there is no known cure. Mayo Clinic research shows it affects 15% to 20% of people and is common in older adults.

I’ve had it for years, but was always in denial. While working from home is a great experience for me, the solitude finally made me realize that the ringing in my ears was not from outside sources, but within my own head.

This video from the Mayo Clinic does an excellent job explaining the condition.

Working with my audiologist, we discovered hearing loss in my right ear, in addition to confirming that I suffered from tinnitus. I attribute the hearing loss to years of work in television news. I lost count of how many times a searing tone went off in my headphones, or the sound of a high pitch tone from a modem or fax machine blasted my eardrums. Hearing protection was never offered by employers and no effort was made to reduce or eliminate the dangerous decibel levels.

It is hard for me to pick up conversations. At conferences (pre-COVID), I struggle to hear the small group conversations. The trend in creating restaurants with atmosphere (noise) makes for an unsatisfying experience, no matter how good the food.

Left with no magic solutions to my hearing loss, I was prescribed hearing aids.

One of my hearing aids. It’s getting crowded behind my ear!

I’ve been using them for one month. My hearing is much improved. This is hard to describe, but my brain feels more relaxed. The struggle to process conversations is gone. I can hear the separation of the surround sound from our television. I think I say “what” or “huh” less often. I successfully tested my hearing in a larger setting, by visiting the Troegs Brewery to enjoy their food and beer.

While there may be no cure for tinnitus, being prescribed hearing aids has provided some relief. My Oticon hearing aids include a tinnitus setting, which allows me to add some “white noise” as a distraction. It’s not a perfect solution, but helps me get through the day.

If you believe you may have tinnitus, get help. See a local audiologist. As with most afflictions, misinformation and false cures proliferate on the internet. Choose reputable health organizations and check out the American Tinnitus Association’s website.

While tinnitus drove Kent Taylor’s decision, our former president’s neglect of public health and safety is responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 Americans, including Kent. Please get vaccinated when you can.

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