How Can Your Home Affect Your Hearing?

04/20/2022 | Hearing loss, Patient Resources

When Brian and I moved to our farmhouse just over a year ago, our relationship suffered. Not only were we arguing all the time, but we struggled to hear each other due to the contrast in acoustics.

Fortunately, I was able to quickly diagnose the problem and redesign our space, as it wasn’t a case of requiring hearing aids but a lack of sound insulation.

Recently, I was interviewed by Next Avenue on this topic, and I thought it would be useful to share some common mistakes house owners make and how to fix them.

Rugs and Windows

The main issue in our space was the echo, which was caused by the hardwood floors.

By incorporating rugs and curtains, it helped to absorb the sound, as well as canvas-mounted photos on the walls.

Other materials such as carpets, bookcases, overstuffed sofas, throw pillows, and wainscoting played a huge part once we began building the character of the house.

There’s also something special about wood paneling, which provides acoustically fantastic living space. However, until recent years, wood paneling is now a thing of the past, and it is no longer a common feature in houses.

Minimalism is a big theme, with many homes featuring open floor plans, cathedral ceilings, and minimalistic décor.

Unfortunately, minimalism is going to result in a minimalistic conversation. Visually warm spaces help to foster communication because you can hear better when there isn’t a bunch of echoey reverb.

Difficulty Understanding TV Dialogue 

A common theme that I hear more often is increased difficulties understanding dialogue on TV. I have noticed that myself and often find that I prefer to have closed captioning turned on for certain shows.
There are a few reasons aside from decreased hearing that can impact your ability to understand dialogue on television these days:
  1. The conversion from analog to digital processing on television sets changed how the audio track is lined up with the video track and in some cases, even the slightest delays between the audio and video are picked up by the brain and that difference shifts the natural visual input contributions to understanding speech.
  2. Station programming purposefully increases the volume of commercials to get your attention.
  3. Flatscreen TVs have speakers on the back, which when mounted to the wall or on a TV stand means the sound is pointing in the opposite direction from where you are sitting. Without soundbars, this can make it difficult for people with normal hearing to follow conversations.
Things that can improve the experience:
  1. Use of a soundbar to help point sound in the right direction.
  2. Assess the layout of your viewing area, sometimes moving furniture around can improve the listening experience- we found that we had our couch too far away from the TV, but we were able to place a console table behind the couch to reduce the distance without too much disturbance to the flow of the room.
  3. Use streaming audio devices, like hearing aids that connect to streamers, television headsets, or even Bluetooth earbuds can be connected to provide audio streaming.
  4. Use closed captioning. Having the visual reinforcement of what you are hearing can help close the gap and ensure you aren’t missing out on valuable content.

Your House May Be Hurting Your Ears

If you’re someone who doesn’t suffer from hearing loss, then you may have adapted well to echoey reverberations. On the other hand, if you suffer from hearing loss, then these types of environments are acoustic disasters.

One reason is that hearing loss affects how quickly you process the sound you’re hearing. For example, it takes much longer for the brain to process how the sound is occurring in the space.

Combined with reverberation, where the sound is bouncing around, it causes a delay in temporal processing, making translation additionally complex.

In these types of cases, hearing aids may not necessarily be the answer, as they work to magnify all sounds around you.

This is when you need to look into your environment and change up your space.

Calling In The Experts

The good news is that certain companies, such as ABD Engineering & Design in Grand Rapids, focus on three areas of acoustics. This includes room acoustics, noise transfer, and mechanical noise.

Room acoustics translates to the way sound bounces around, noise transfer is the way sound moves from one space to another, and mechanical noise is the sound generated by appliances and HVAC systems.

Many other firms also work on private homes, either during construction or afterward.

Acoustical engineers focus on a scientific approach to optimizing a home’s sound environment. This involves performing acoustical measurements to analyze the data and then making recommendations on what materials to use and where.

Simple (And Not-So-Simple) Solutions  

To combat a difficult noise environment, the best time to address your home’s acoustics is during new construction or remodeling.

This is a great time to get an engineer involved so that they can work together with your architect and your builder to create an acoustically succinct environment.

Such products that consultants may recommend include:

  • Acoustic underlayment for floors
  • Acoustic ceiling panels
  • Resilient walls
  • Flexible plumbing connections

These treatment materials are fairly inexpensive and can revitalize a dead space.

If you require more than a DIY solution, then I recommend contacting a professional engineering firm that is a member of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants.

It is also a good idea to schedule a hearing assessment with our experts to assess if your hearing requirements have changed.

Do you know somebody that needs to see this? Why not share it?

Erika Shakespeare CCC-A

Erika Shakespeare, CCC-A, specializes in pediatric and adult diagnostics and amplification. Working with adults to help manage tinnitus and hearing loss since 2002, she is an expert in both of these areas. Additionally, she is a pediatric audiology mentor and educator for pediatric audiologists across the country and is one of the most respected experts on pediatric audiology.

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