As your hearing loss progresses, you may experience difficulties hearing all conversations, whether it’s a family meal, a night out with friends, or a trip to the cinema
Get back into the conversation
If you find it hard to follow what other people are talking about, it is also harder to be an active participant in interesting conversations. This is because hearing loss often causes you to miss out on many subtle cues. In contrast, people with normal hearing subconsciously realise when another person wants to speak because they hear things like when that person takes a breath before speaking.
So in order to stay active, you need to be able to get back into the conversation. This requires that you can hear well.
If you have a hearing aid, your hearing care professional often can tune it more accurately to you. If you don’t already have a hearing aid, your hearing care professional can advise you about your options.
Crowds of people make a sound soup!
Perhaps you find one-on-one conversations are okay. There are less disturbing sounds, it is clear who should speak when, and you are generally close to each other.
But every new person who is added to a group adds much more complexity. If you think of a family meal or a dinner party, there are fast-paced changes of topic. Different people join into conversations and leave them. People talk at the same time, and across the room. And they get passionate and talk faster.
Often people with hearing loss find such situations harder to navigate.
So I just need more volume?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Making sounds louder is only part of the answer – it’s also about dealing with noise and focusing your hearing.
Noise takes over your world
If you have hearing problems, it can be harder to separate sounds from each other, so it’s harder to focus on what you want to hear.
All sounds seem to come at once in a general ‘wall of sound’ where background noise and speech are mixed together. You may hear people speaking, but it’s harder to pick it out; it’s harder to tell where the speech starts and stops.
This is because with a ‘wall of sound’, you can hear, but it’s harder to focus on a specific sound.
You can’t tell where a sound is coming from so well, so it is difficult to switch attention quickly. You become less able to choose what you want to listen to.
To hear well, you need to be able to ignore some sound so you can focus on what you want to hear.
Watch video: The hearing aid that deals with noise in a new way
Cafes and restaurants add complexity
When you are talking to someone and there’s not much other sound, your conversation stands out clearly. But in noisier places like restaurants and other public places, the sound you want to hear is more mixed in with other sounds. You face clattering from the kitchen, mixed chatter from surrounding tables, and music competing for your attention.
It becomes harder to tune out the noise and focus on individual sounds. But it’s not impossible, as long as you’re aware of the noise challenges.
A good tip is to ask for a quiet table. And if you have Bluetooth® hearing aids, a personal microphone can help you by transmitting another person’s voice directly into your ears.
Learn about the ConnectClip personal microphone
Plug into performances, cinemas, churches and more
Part of being social can be going with friends and family to the cinema or theatre. Or perhaps you prefer lectures or presentations. In places like these, your hearing loss can cause some challenges. Fortunately, many public places have a built-in ‘teleloop’. These systems send the sound directly to a receiver in certain types of hearing aids. This is called a telecoil.
With treatment, socialising becomes easier
If you have hearing loss, your brain has to work harder to make sense of sound at social events like lively dinner parties and weddings. It becomes more tiring because you are tackling multiple conversations that evolve quickly and unpredictably. And there’s a lot of background noise from the kitchen, and maybe other parties.
Your brain is an amazing tool, and can draw on your memory to automatically fill in missing words and sounds so that you can understand the bigger picture. But it takes you much more mental effort.
So what to do?
You hear with your brain, not your ears
Your ears gather sound. They gather all the sound all around you all the time – even when you are asleep. But it is your brain that makes sense of the sound. Your brain decides what to focus on, and what is noise to filter out.
Our brain has the extraordinary ability to focus on the sound of interest and ignore everything else. This ability is called ‘selective attention’. It is the brain’s own noise reduction system and it is very effective. However, as your hearing becomes poorer, your brain has less information on which to apply this selective attention function. Keeping up becomes difficult.
If you have hearing loss, conversations take up more mental energy. Maybe you’ve experienced that you get extra tired in the evening. The more noise and complexity the brain has to work in, the more effort it takes your brain.
Read more about how to use your brain to hear