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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    Erika’s Story

    I’m Erika. I love learning about new technology, particularly with technology designed to help people hear and connect to their families, friends and community. I first learned about the Jabra Enhance Plus 18 months ago in a tech talk related to OTC hearing aids. OTC stands for “over-the-counter”; this was driven by the PCAST report (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) that was published in 2016 and was rejuvenated by Biden’s Executive to the FDA to develop regulations and labeling on a new classification of non-prescription hearing aids that would be available to purchase by consumers without professional engagement.

    The purpose was to introduce lower cost entry to hearing aids for consumers. This is opening a whole new pipeline of devices from manufacturers of consumer electronics to manufacturers of medical devices to get into the lucrative market of entry level amplification. Bose had launched their new “hearing aid” which was a terrible flop, it didn’t have rechargeability, it had a ton of feedback (whistling), it didn’t even have basic streaming features. Signia launched a product, Apple Air pods added transparency mode and developed an app to “test” your hearing to apply mild gain to your Air Pod Pros, and Resound’s research team partnered with GN’s consumer electronic group that makes Jabra products to develop a hybrid hearing aid/consumer electronic sometimes referred to as a Hearable, PSAP (Personal Sound Amplifier), or and OTC hearing aid. Other companies have come out with products that they are marketing as hearing aids, the FDA has been playing whack-a-mole with these illegally labeled products. Whatever you may call the widget, it is an electronic device that is not programmed by a licensed hearing health care professional.

    I was awarded a slot to participate in a pilot project to evaluate the Jabra Enhance Plus product before it was released commercially to the public. I have been wearing the device for the last 10 days. I have about 4 pages of feedback for the developers for the app and also the device itself. Here is my pro/con list.

    Pros: The size and fit. It doesn’t look anything like a hearing aid, it is like a small button Bluetooth or wireless earbud. There is nothing hanging out of the ear to catch on masks. The green, faded yellow and red indicator lights on the device and the charger are intuitive ways to alert to battery life. The little charging case holds a charge even when it is not plugged in. It is easily portable, fits great in a pocket of my purse so I have them with me. The streaming is pretty seamless. The app controls are deceivingly simple, it seems like there should be more, but it is really just the volume up and down. They were a lot more comfortable to wear while reclining and listening to streaming audio than other wireless earbuds that I have used. It was easy to switch to a call while streaming. They enhanced listening when I was watching TV.

    Cons: The built-in personalization didn’t seem to customize the sound; The filter setting was something that I wanted to change frequently, but it is a buried feature in the app. The fit was sort of uncomfortable in one ear and the selection of domes were not adequate. The occlusion effect for my own body noises was significant. My voice sounded too far away for people on the other end of the phone call. The sound quality for phone calls and streaming audio was inferior to other wireless earbuds that I use. I struggled in noisy situations to hear other people over my own body sounds. They move a lot in my ears with talking. They don’t connect to my computer, so going between zoom meetings and phone calls or other activities was cumbersome and I have to switch devices.
    My overall assessment is that there is a place in the consumer electronic world for these cute little hearing enhancers, but they will not yet replace my wireless earbuds. I look forward to future software updates that will hopefully improve and expand usability (like connecting to my PC for zoom calls).

    Tom’s Story

    Tom was not as happy as Donna after his 10 days with the devices. He much preferred his own hearing aids. He did like that his mask never got caught on them. His biggest issue was that he got whistling from them when he turned them up loud enough for him to hear the TV. He did enjoy the streaming capabilities. He struggled the most with pairing the devices, which may have been because he used his Bluetooth a lot for other things and the Jabra devices did not seem to respond well to intermittent connectivity.

    Donna’s Story

    Donna wore the devices for 10-12 hours everyday for ten days. She loved how much better she heard in group settings and in conversations with friends and family.

    She mentioned that after a long day she did notice that her ears would get a little sore and she thought maybe a smaller prescription hearing aid would be better for her long term, but she thought these self fitting hearing aids were great and easy to use. She would definitely consider buying them and even had several of her friends ask where they could buy them.

    Linda’s Story

    Linda wore the Jabra Enhance Plus 5-6 hours a day. Mostly while watching TV. She loved how much easier it was to hear the dialogue on TV. She also enjoyed hearing her husband more easily while they were having conversations. She had little difficulty connecting the devices to her app, the most difficult part of the connection that Linda had was remembering her apple password. She was really impressed with the product and the price.

    Beth Story

    Beth wears the Jabra Enhance Plus about an hour a day, primarily for streaming while exercising. She loves the quality of the streaming for phone calls and listening to audio books. She tried the devices in a restaurant with friends, but really struggled to adapt to her own voice and thought that it was actually harder to focus on the voices she wanted to hear over some of the other environment sounds being amplified. She really didn’t find them helpful in the classroom like she had hoped, but she admitted that only tried them once in that setting.

    Jan’s Story

    I'm Jan. I have enjoyed being part of this new technology. After day two I did experience right ear canal discomfort and was not able to wear the device for a few days. I feel if the device was a little bit smaller it would be more comfortable for me.

    I felt muffled and my own voice was hollow. After a few days I didn't notice it as much. I am not totally comfortable with new technology but found the setup for Jabra to be easy. The charging was easy, and the hearing test was relatively easy. I have normal hearing, therefore did not experience a lot of amplification. I found the app was user friendly. I would recommend them to someone who had a mild to moderate hearing loss that could not afford hearing aids.