Challenging Listening Environments

hearing loss challenging barriers

If you have a hearing loss, you likely have more difficulty understanding speech in challenging listening environments, like noisy restaurants or at parties, even when you are wearing your hearing aids. There often are three main barriers to improved understanding for anyone with a hearing loss:

  1.         Distance from the signal of interest (speech, music, etc.)
  2.         Background noise
  3.         Reverberation

1. Distance from the sound

If you have hearing loss, you have a reduced hearing range. As the distance from a speaker or signal of interest increases, your ability to listen to and understand that sound decreases. Sitting closer to the sound source, as well as reducing barriers and distractions, will help improve your understanding and reduce listening effort.

2. Background noise

Background noise challenges everyone, especially those with hearing loss. It becomes increasingly harder to hear when background noise is as loud as the sound you want to hear. Audiologists refer to this as the signal-to-noise ratio. 

When possible, eliminate or reduce the background noise. Try to position yourself so that the noise is behind you, and not coming from the same direction as the sound you want to hear. 

Communication partners should face one another and be sure there is good lighting. This can support visual and facial cues and can improve your understanding of what’s being said because it provides context.

3. Reverberation

Reverberation is the persistence of sound in a room after the original sound has stopped, like an echo. A room with good acoustics is designed to decrease reverberation, making it easier to hear. The amount of reverberation depends mainly on the size of a room or space and the surface materials used in the room. 

Large rooms with high ceilings, flat, hard surfaces and open floor plans are difficult listening environments for anyone with hearing loss. Look for an area with softer furnishings that absorb sound, like carpet and rugs, versus tile or hardwood floors. These will reduce reverberation and make listening and understanding easier. 

How Hearing Aids Help

Hearing aids can improve your ability to better understand what’s being said in these challenging listening environments. More advanced hearing aid technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), is able to “learn” from experience and can adjust to complex listening situations. 

According to the Hearing Industries Association, hearing aids built with AI can detect your environment and learn your preferences for listening. 

For example, when seated in a noisy restaurant with a friend or spouse, hearing aids with AI can automatically shift to provide more comfort or more clarity to help you perform your best. For areas that you frequent, the hearing aid can remember your preferred settings and automatically adjust when you enter that location.

And if you need even more help hearing in difficult listening environments, assistive listening devices can help. These can include devices that stream sound directly to your hearing aids via Bluetooth or FM technology. These accessories can help when watching TV, talking on the phone, or listening to music.

Other assistive listening devices include personal amplifiers, FM systems, infrared systems and induction loop systems. Each of these has a specific function and even if you already wear hearing aids, they may be able to help give your hearing the added boost you need.

A doctoral-level audiologist is an expert in both hearing aids and assistive listening device technology. To find out if you might benefit from this technology, schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist today.