You often hear people complaining of not hearing due to poor acoustics. Is this a legitimate phenomenon or just another excuse people use to explain a lack of understanding?
Even with a hearing aid you may find it difficult to hear in certain environments such as cinemas, churches and restaurants. This can be very frustrating. But remember, even people without a hearing impairment may find it difficult to hear in these environments.
There are 3 main factors that determine the acoustics of a room: Noise, Distance and Reverberation. Below we discuss each of these 3 factors and strategies to improve your hearing when one, or more of these are interfering with your hearing.
Hearing care professionals talk about an optimum signal to noise ratio (SNR) when determining if you are in a good listening environment. An optimum SNR is +15dB. This means that the speech that you want to hear needs to be 15dB louder than competing background noise in order for you to hear it.
For instance, if you are watching TV at 60dB and the air conditioner next to the TV is also 60dB- then your SNR would be 0dB and it will be impossible for you to hear your television. One of the following needs to happen to improve this: You can either turn off the air conditioner or turn up the TV.
Thus, in a very noisy room, your best option is to move to a quieter spot, or to ask the person you are talking to to speak louder. Putting your hearing aid on a program designed to help in noise situations may also be beneficial. Ask your audiologist about this.
Distance to the speaker is another important factor in determining audibility. The further away you are from the person you are talking to, the softer their voice will be.
The best solution would be to move closer to the speaker. Always make sure that you are sitting in front at the church or cinema. Ensure that the person you are talking to is sitting in a well-lit area so that you can see their face and make sure that SNR is at its maximum. Sitting in a spot without too much competing background noise is the best solution.
Sound travels in waves. Some sound will reach you directly, while some sound will bounce off hard surfaces first. By the time this sound reaches you, the signal is distorted or not clear enough for you to hear.
At home, there are certain things you can do to reduce reverberation. Carpets and curtains in a room all reduces reverberation, as there are less hard surfaces for sound to bounce against.
Unfortunately, sometimes you will be in situations with increased reverberation that you cannot do much about, such as big halls or big meeting rooms. Your best option here is to sit at a close distance to the speaker, and close all doors and windows in order to prevent outside background noise from getting into the room.
We hope the strategies explained in this article will be useful to you next time you are struggling to hear. Talk to your audiologist about what your hearing aid can and cannot do to improve your hearing in difficult situations. If you are not sure how this applies to you or your family, or if you have general questions, please send us an email or give us a call. We will gladly offer you additional advice.
Article written by Nadia van Eyssen, practice manager and audiologist at Kind 2 Hearing.