One of the frustrations of hearing loss is the way it makes listening in a group setting particularly difficult. This is a special challenge for foodies and folks that love to dine out. When hearing loss intrudes and sours the ease of conversation in a noisy background, restaurants may have lost their appeal.
But there are strategies you can employ so that dining out with your partner or friends remains enjoyable.
Hearing loss at a glance
More than 30 million Americans live with hearing loss, which disproportionately affects people over the age of 65. One-third of Americans between 65 and 74 years old have hearing loss while half of people over the age of 75 do.
This is because age is one of the leading contributors to a loss in hearing health. Over time, the inner ear cells decline, narrowing the number of healthy cells available to assist in the hearing process. These cells play a particularly important role, too. They gather the noise happening around us and transform it into sound information that is then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. The brain’s processing centers interpret the sound information and translate it into meaning.
Excessive noise exposure, either all at once or slowly over time, can also negatively impact the health of inner ear cells.
Why background noise makes hearing so difficult
When we lose inner ear cells, we lose the ability to adequately capture the full spectrum of sounds of the world. The earliest symptoms of hearing loss are failing to hear certain frequencies (typically higher pitched ones like children’s voices) which leads to trouble understanding speech.
Even in a quiet and controlled setting, it might be challenging to hear what is being said. Then, we throw in complications like multiple people talking at us from different directions and the clatter and distraction of background noise and hearing the conversations around us go from frustrating to impossible.
Essentially, our brain has to work harder to filter through the background noise to get to the speech we want to hear. When hearing loss is present, it’s even more difficult to get to that conversational stream of sound information because there already isn’t enough being collected.
Strategies for dining out with hearing loss
Research your destination
You might already have a favorite spot that is conducive to conversation, but they’re pretty hard to find these days due to design trends. When deciding on a restaurant, do a little background research before finalizing plans. Both Yelp and Google post public reviews that are easy to find on the internet. Look for words like ‘quiet’ and ‘cozy.’ These places will be easier to hold conversations in, since they’re already starting from a place with less interfering noise.
You’re not the only one searching for a quiet place for good conversation, so sharing your finds with others via public reviews helps local businesses and your hearing challenged comrades.
Look for decor details like carpeting and low ceilings
Now we’re getting into acoustics. It’s not exactly in style, but carpeted restaurants are actually much quieter than others. The textile absorbs sound, so that the volume of background noise is reduced. The same goes for lower ceilings, which can help contain background noise.
Avoid modern decor like cement floors and sky high factory ceilings, which are a beast for amplification.
Ask for a corner table and sit against the wall
You can use the architecture to your advantage by placing a sound barrier (the wall) behind you. A corner table is ideal because you’re getting two sound barriers for the price of one and contains the conversation between you and your dining partner.
Face your dining partner
Sit directly facing the person you are having a conversation with so that you are in the direct line of their voice. You’ll have a much easier time catching their words and you can also tap into facial expressions and the movement of their mouth in order to provide contextual support.
Schedule a hearing consultation
Of course, strategies for dining out with hearing loss will only take you so far if the condition remains undiagnosed or untreated. If you’ve been struggling with hearing conversations amid background noise, then it’s a great time to schedule a hearing consultation with our highly trained team. We’ll guide you through an easy hearing exam and work with you to find a solution that works.