(BPT) - Holidays are for reuniting with friends and family. These are times full of love and joy, but can also be full of stress. If you have hearing loss, these large gatherings can be even more challenging because hearing loss occurs more often at the higher pitches than the low. Low-pitch sounds like the car engine, or speech sounds such as 'ah' or 'ooh' can generally be heard more easily than high-pitch sounds like bird chirps or speech sounds such as 's' or 'f.' As a result, people rely on hearing the low-pitch sounds in speech in order to understand the conversation. People with hearing loss also rely more on non-verbal cues to help them fill in the gaps, including the context of the conversation, body language, facial expressions and lip-reading.
Unfortunately, in large gatherings, all the cues those with hearing loss rely on to help them understand speech become compromised. In these situations, there is usually a variety of different background noises, such as people talking and laughing, music and cutlery clanking. Noise generally tends to be low pitch. In louder environments, the background noise can drown out the remaining speech sounds those with hearing loss need in order to understand the conversation. There also tend to be instances where more than one person is speaking, and the speaker may not always be facing the listener.
As a result, those with hearing loss have to pay extra close attention. Unfortunately, they too often just catch fragments of words and sentences they have to piece together. This process requires so much mental effort these individuals are often exhausted after a few hours of trying to keep up with the conversation. As a result, loved ones with hearing loss tend to become withdrawn and socially isolated, and will even leave the conversation to watch TV or be on their own.
Hearing aids can help
Modern digital hearing aids are designed to improve these stressful situations. Wearers are able to differentiate speech from noise, and the hearing aids suppress noise to enhance the sound quality of speech. In new smart hearing aids, these noise reduction algorithms are completely automatic and can target a variety of different sounds, such as machinery, car and traffic noise, impulse noises such as clanging cutlery and clinking glass, and even wind noise. They can even work fast enough to reduce the brief pockets of noise between natural pauses in words and sentences. By reducing the overall noise level, hearing aids make listening in difficult situations more comfortable and less stressful.
Smart hearing aids with directional microphone technology also help wearers hear better in large gatherings and parties. Instead of picking up sounds equally from all around the wearer, modern hearing aids are able to pick up sounds primarily from the front direction. Since you're most likely facing the person you're talking to, directional microphones pick up speech from your conversational partner while reducing the noise coming from behind you. In more advanced hearing aids, directional microphones are able to able to activate automatically in the presence of noise (i.e., when you join the party). They also adapt to various sound environments to give you the best performance in these dynamic listening situations. Most impressive of all, when some hearing aids are fit as a pair, their directional microphones can communicate and work together to sharpen the directional focus even further, so that sound (including speech) that is not immediately in front of you is reduced. In really challenging and noisy conditions, such as crowded restaurants or cocktail parties, this technology has been clinically proven to allow wearers to understand speech even better than listeners with normal hearing.
Use communication strategies
Advanced hearing aid technology can help tremendously, but some simple strategies can make communicating in these situations even easier:
* If the location of the event is within your control, minimize background noise (e.g., forgo background music or limit it to one area of the house).
* If you have a say in the restaurant where a gathering is taking place, consider one that is relatively quiet and request a table in a more secluded area. Consider choosing a time that is off- peak dining hours.
* Remind people to get your attention first and face you when speaking. Position yourself in a well-lit area.
* If there are windows, sit with your back to them so that the light is on your partner rather than in your eyes. Being able to see the person you're talking to clearly makes it easier to use visual cues to help you understand the conversation.
Finally, relax and appreciate these special times with your loved ones. Remember, in these difficult listening situations, even those with normal hearing often miss a few words or phrases. Don't get stressed or discouraged if you don't understand everything. Focus on enjoying the company of your friends and family, just as they enjoy yours.