Hearing loss is never easy to deal with. Understanding what other people are saying in busy, noisy situations can be especially difficult. Environments with poor acoustics can also be challenging.
Let’s take a look at how you can overcome background noise with the right tools.
The Signal to Noise Ratio Problem
For many people who suffer from hearing loss, the inner ear structures have been damaged. This can be further complicated by the impact of aging or auditory deprivation. Inner ear damages causes difficulties more complex than just the loss of loudness sensation. It is more difficult to detect the differences in pitch and timing, for example. That degrades the signal while also making it tough to separate noise from speech.
That inability to discern between the noise and speech is referred to as Signal to Noise Ratio, or SNR, loss. SNR loss refers to the need for the speech signal to be significantly stronger and louder than other noises. The average person with hearing loss needs the speech signal to be 30 decibels louder.
Hearing Aids & Background Noise
These days, hearing aids can address SNR loss in a variety of ways.
- If both of your ears have damage, wear two hearing aids. Clinical studies have shown this binaural advantage to improve the ability to discern speech in noise.
- You should wear your hearing aids consistently. Consistent wear helps you adapt to hearing background sounds so they do not sound novel and won’t distract you.
- Directional microphones also offer SNR improvement. While most hearing aids are equipped with a noise reduction algorithm, directional microphones help emphasize speech and suppress noise when both are present.
Despite advancements technology, hearing aids are far from equal to a functioning auditory system. Some situations will require more than hearing aids for proper communication.
Assistive Listening Devices to Improve SNR
Another way to improve SNR is by using assistive listening devices. These devices bring the desired speech signal directly into the hearing aid when background noise is present. Using wireless connectivity, modern hearing aids receive signals from a variety of remote microphones.
Hearing impaired can use Bluetooth technology to pair their hearing aids to any enabled device. In addition, many landline telephones can wirelessly connect to hearing aids.
Some hearing aids are equipped with telecoils. These can be used in public places, providing a looped assistive listening system.
All of these systems are extremely valuable in improving communication in difficult hearing environments.
Coping and Repair Strategies
In addition, some patients deal with the effects of a damaged auditory system and a reduced cognitive ability.
If that is the case, these kinds of auditory environments can remain challenging.
But those issues can be mitigated by the following coping and repair strategies:
- Reduce the distance between yourself and the person talking
- Face the person you are talking to and ask them to face you
- Wear eyeglasses if you have them
- When choosing a restaurant, don’t opt for places with carpeting, draperies, or acoustic tile.
- Dine at less popular times
- Family members should speak to you from the same room in order to clearly understand them
- Reduce noise sources whenever possible by turning down televisions, turning off running water, moving away from HVAC units, etc.
- Ask family members to speak slowly and distinctly as opposed to loudly
- Keep expectations realistic and when the listening environment is impossible, say so.
- Give explicit requests when you can’t hear something. Ask people to look at you, to speak slowly, to remove their hand from their mouth, whatever the case may be.
- Also: Don’t bluff. Simply smiling and nodding is often not the appropriate responses.