Group of hearing impaired friends communication with the use of hearing aids in Traverse City

“We used to enjoy dinners out — we don’t anymore.” I hear that statement and others like it often.

Modern restaurants are designed to impress and visually astound. They are seldom designed to improve communication. Modern design calls for hard surfaces like glass and chrome, and tall ceilings that can add to the overwhelming sense of grandeur. A significant number of restaurants are simply too loud for conversation. This doesn’t help you enjoy an evening out. Many folks with hearing loss and the people who care about them avoid restaurants since going out for dinner becomes one more activity you can no longer enjoy.

Most social media sites will ask restaurant owners to rate the ambience of their establishment. Research has shown they tend to underestimate and are unreliable sources for evaluating noise levels.

There is more you can do to get accurate information and to share it with others. Evidence has shown that the general public does not have sufficient awareness of the level of restaurant noise, but this could change with the use of a phone app called SoundPrint. Download this app, and you will have an accurate method to measure the sound around you and save the measurements. Your comments — “here at lunch time,” “crowded at dinner,” “better during lunch” — can also be saved. And finally, your measurements and your comments will be available to others as they search for a quiet spot to relax and visit while having a meal.

And here are a few tips when you go out to eat.

    1. Look for quiet restaurants in your area. These would be settings with lots of carpets or curtains to dampen noise. They are places where you can sit at a booth instead of a table.
    2. Ask for a specific table. Don’t accept a table in the middle of a crowded dining room. The noise will come at you from all sides and even the most advanced hearing devices will struggle to identify the speech you want to focus on.
    3. When seated, choose to sit with your back towards most of the noise in the room. Make sure you can see the speaker so that visual cues are available for you.
    4. If you are at a table for six or more, sit at the end of the table so you can view all the speakers without having to turn your head to see who is talking. It is an advantage to see people’s faces as easily as possible during group conversations.
    5. Experiment with your technology. Your hearing care provider can program your hearing aids to focus forward and minimize sound from behind or to your sides. Some advanced hearing aids have strong noise reduction circuits that focus more on close-by speech and not on the background noise.
    6. Consider the use of assistive devices that can improve the function of your hearing aids. An extra-small microphone can focus on the speech around your table and stream the sound directly to your hearing aids via Bluetooth. It provides clearer sound and reduces noise at a distance. Ask your hearing care provider if you can take one to lunch and try it out.