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How to Hear Better

Maximize your situations at home, at work and in public spaces

two men talking at work

Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

If you have trouble hearing at work, consider talking to your manager or human resources department about moving to a quieter area, such as an office with a door or a corner workstation.

A variety of environments bring with them different challenges to hearing, but there are proactive steps one can take to hear better in most of them. If you're concerned about your hearing but haven't been tested, take the national hearing test here.   

At work

Many of us are working longer and harder. But you can work more productively and less stressfully when you maximize your hearing at the office. 

“We see a lot of older patients at our clinic who feel embarrassed because they’re really struggling to hear in the work environment,” says Sarah Kirk, an audiologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “It’s very loud, there are cubicles, there’s a lot of reverberation, and they can’t hear on the telephone. It can all be very stressful,” she says. 

Kirk reminds patients that hearing loss may be an “invisible disability,” but that they are entitled to take advantage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Consider talking to your manager or human resources department about moving to an office with a door or a workstation in a corner — away from chatty colleagues, the copier, and loud fans or air conditioning units. 

If you can’t move your space, minimize noise reverberations by putting a small rug under your chair or noise-absorbing panels on your walls, Kirk suggests. 

Also, ask someone in human resources about getting a more suitable phone — whether it’s one with closed-captioning or increased volume capability — and consider noise-canceling headphones. At meetings, Kirk suggests, sit no farther than 10 feet from the speaker. If available, ask for the written agenda before a meeting and a copy of the minutes afterward.

In public spaces

Whether you’re headed to a movie or museum or out for dinner, a little bit of prep goes a long way. “When you make a restaurant reservation, tell the host that you’ll need the quietest table in the restaurant,” says Brian J. McKinnon, M.D., associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. 

Do not sit near the kitchen or front door; booths are best for blocking sound, and tables near curtains and carpet help, too. “Ask for a printed list of specials — versus having your server rattle them off in 30 seconds,” McKinnon adds. Most telecoil- or Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids will also allow your server or restaurant companions to use your phone as a mini microphone, speaking directly to your hearing device. 

For movie, theater and museum visits, call in advance to find out what kind of assisted-listening devices (ALDs) — such as noise-canceling headsets, audio headsets and telecoil (t-coil) compatibility — are available, Kirk suggests. 

Look for the t-coil symbol when you’re out; a blue sign with a white ear suggests that the environment is already looped, so all you’d have to do is push the t-coil button on your hearing aid, and the source will go directly into your hearing aids, as it increasingly does at airports, banks, places of worship and supermarkets.

At parties or in restaurants, public spaces or even someone's home, many people with hearing loss say that it can be hard to understand what's going on when multiple conversations are happening at once. When there's someone you'd really like to chat with, ask if they'd like to move away from the crowd to a quieter spot.      

At home

“The tips for home are all of the above, plus some basic things,” McKinnon says. His No. 1 suggestion: Don’t try to have a conversation with someone in another room. Get close so you can face each other directly.  

And you can use technology to your advantage at home. The t-coil function on your hearing aid can loop to your TV, says Elizabeth Levine-Davis, an audiologist at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York. “That way, you and your partner can watch the same show at your preferred volume.” And here's other helpful tech that can make it easier to hear your television.

You may be eligible for a free closed-captioning phone (talk to your audiologist) and can order a wide range of hearing devices — from vibrating alarm clocks to flashing doorbells and smoke detectors — through sellers of assistive products, such as Harris Communications and ADCO Hearing Products.

“Being your own self-advocate — in all venues — is super important,” Kirk stresses. “Improving your communication [and] addressing your hearing issues reduces stress in your life, and makes your relationships better with coworkers, friends and family.”

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