One of the most frequent concerns that our patients discuss with us is how to hear better in noise, especially in restaurants. This is a very complex topic and has been the theme of many textbooks!!
Here are some of the fundamentals of acoustics that will affect how anyone is able to function in noise, even those with normal or near normal hearing:
- If the speech you are listening to is louder than the background noise, you will likely understand the speech.
- If the speech you are listening to is the same loudness as the background noise, your ability to understand the speech decreases significantly.
- If the speech you are listening to is softer than the background noise, you will NOT hear the speech.
Your environment also plays an important part in acoustics. Hard surfaces reflect sound making the room seem reverberant and noisy. Soft surfaces absorb sound making close speech easier to understand. Look around. Are the wall surfaces hard (glass, brick, wood, concrete)? Are the ceilings high? Are there acoustic tiles? Are there any soft materials that help absorb noise (curtains, acoustic tiles, wall hangings, carpets)?
Today’s trendy restaurants often do not take into account how their architectural designs can amplify noise. Often the open floor plan, music and bare tables look lovely but create a challenge for patrons with hearing aids. Find a restaurant that pays attention to your listening comfort or choose a time to dine that’s earlier or later than the evening rush. Request a table in a quiet section of the restaurant whenever possible. If you feel you are having trouble, ask your normal hearing friends if they think it is too noisy – you may be surprised at how often everyone finds the noise too loud!
Another tip: today’s hearing instruments use microphones and computer processing to deal with background noise. In order for these circuits to work best, it’s important to choose a restaurant seat that puts the noise behind you and the folks you want to hear in front of you.
For years, people with hearing aids were told to sit with their back to the wall, but now you want your back to the noise.