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Hearing Loss in Public Places

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According to a study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine,  48 million, or 20.3% of all Americans, have hearing loss in at least one ear. With hearing loss being so common, many people are not even aware that their hearing is gradually declining. If you’re like them, you may be in a public space the first time you notice difficulty with your hearing. 

Hearing in public spaces can be challenging due to background noise; including traffic, music, or the mingling of several competing conversations and voices. Background noise makes it difficult to understand someone because the noise is louder than the voices you want to hear, or it distracts your attention from what people are saying. Filtering out the background noise in public spaces is difficult because it requires precise hearing from both ears.

As we age, tiny hair cells in our inner ears that translate sound vibration to our brain begin to gradually lose effectiveness or die altogether. It then becomes more difficult to hear speech or recognize sounds as clearly. While we can’t repair these cells, we can limit exposure to loud noises to limit further hearing loss.  If hearing loss is already impacting your life, talk with your doctor about a hearing aid that can manage the background noise and enhance speech or amplify sounds from the directions you need to hear. If your hearing loss becomes severe enough that a traditional hearing aid won't work, a cochlear implant may be recommended.  This device bypasses these damaged cells and stimulate the auditory nerve directly.  
 

Choose Strategies for Success

Communication strategies can be effective when used in conjunction with hearing aids, particularly in difficult listening environments. Choices can empower us to be more successful, despite the listening challenge with which we are presented:  

Choose a Plan for Success: Pick a quieter location at a less busy time.  Make reservations ahead of time to request quieter accommodations like a private room or corner table away from a kitchen or busy entrance. Look at the menu ahead of time online or call to ask about specials.

Choose a Successful Seat: Sit where there is a bright light source, so that the speakers’ faces are illuminated. Put those you want to her against a solid surface like a high back booth or wall.  It is best to have the noise sources behind you.

Choose a Successful Ambiance: The decor of an establishment can greatly influence the acoustics and sound transmission in an environment. For example, locations with carpet, plants, and sound absorbent materials on the walls can provide a better place to hear. Avoid dimly list places, or being seated in the middle of a restaurant where the sound is most likely to echo or be reverberate.  

Choose to Advocate for Yourself: Tell the people accompanying you and the staff  serving you that you are hard of hearing.  Ask that they speak slower, a bit louder, and face you directly when they talk. Ask staff to turn down loud music, or close blinds if the sun is in your eyes. Don’t feel like you have to pretend to hear better to have a good time - any conversation with you is worth having!

Choose Successful Expectations: Hearing in public space will not be as easy as hearing at home. People with good hearing have difficulty hearing in noisy places as well. Do all you can to have a successful listening experience.