“Is it me? Or is it EXTREMELY NOISY IN HERE?”

Just this past summer I turned 30 years old, yet when I go to a restaurant I can’t see to read the menu or hear what my friends are saying to me during conversation. Yes …yes, I know what you’re thinking – why don’t you just get a pair of glasses and why don’t you just ask one of your colleagues to test your hearing? But, as many of you know, and often experience, seeing and hearing well in restaurants is not necessarily closely correlated to how well you can really see and hear. I do have normal vision and I do have normal hearing (not trying to brag), but I sometimes sit in a restaurant wondering why are we sitting here eating in the dark, and what the heck is my friend saying to me? Did she just say something about a cheese plate? Do they have cheese plates on the menu? I don’t see a cheese plate. Well, maybe the waiter mentioned it when he told us the specials, but I had a hard time following what he was saying. …….Oh, PLAY DATE! She is talking about a play date for our daughters. I AM NOT GOING CRAZY!

I am pretty certain that something similar to this has happened to you at one time. When it happens to me, I just try to laugh it off and remind myself that loud restaurants are part of dining, especially “trendy” dining. (and sometimes “not-so-trendy” dining as well) But, I also know that my patients may not be so quick to laugh it off when they misunderstand their friends in a crowded and noisy restaurant. Given my experiences, I can’t really say that I blame them for being frustrated. Having difficulty hearing in a social situation, such as an evening out at a fun restaurant, must really make one feel defeated and depressed, especially if you just spent a significant chunk of change on a pair of hearing aids.

When my patients tell me about their difficulties hearing in noise, I take some time to talk with them about the following topics:

  1. I tell them: “You are NOT alone!”  I’m pretty sure no one believes me when I tell them this, but it is 100% TRUE!  Everyone has trouble hearing in noise (as demonstrated by my experience above). The difference is that people who have normal hearing don’t put as much thought into their failed communication attempts because they know that misunderstanding happens and not being able to understand at all, happens too. People who have hearing problems tend to blame all of their miscommunications on their hearing problems. They blame none of their hearing troubles on the loud lounge music, people trying to shout over it, and complete lack of anything sound absorbent in the entire restaurant. So, we have to learn to be REALISTIC and equally important is that we have to understand the limitations; understand that everyone has certain the limitations in a noisy environment and recognize that there are limitations with the use of many hearing aids in a noisy environment. And part of that is realizing you are not the only one in the restaurant nodding and smiling, …not by a long shot.
  2. Sometimes it just helps to state the truth: some restaurants are for socializing and some restaurants are for food. Patients may tell me about a particular restaurant that they love but then comment on how difficult it is to hear there. Maybe that restaurant is the one you go to just for the food and not for the company. I don’t like to tell people this, nor do I want for anyone to be forced to make that distinction, but sometimes that is part of being realistic about your hearing.
  3. Consider using LACE (Listening And Communication Enhancement): it is an adult brain training program that focuses on auditory processing. Auditory processing is what your brain is doing when you’re trying so hard to understand the well meaning, but very soft- spoken waitress. LACE is designed to help you improve your auditory processing skills when the environment you’re in, or the voice you’re trying to hear, is less than optimal. LACE helps you exercise your hearing abilities in auditory memory, when more than one person is speaking, when someone is speaking quickly, and when parts of what someone is saying are not clear. To obtain more information about LACE, do an internet search. LACE is was developed by Neurotone. When you visit their website, you will be able to download a free demonstration and try it out. There is a good chance it will help.
  4. Every person is different. We learn this fact when we’re young. Some people are athletic while others are artistic. Some are meant to be scholars and others comedians. Some people are naturally better at hearing in noise, and some people are not.This is one of the things that, as an audiologist, makes my heart hurt. There is nothing worse than having to tell someone that they will never hear well in noise.(we can actually predict this by some of the diagnostic tests that we utilize during  your complete hearing evaluation.) It’s not good news and it’s not fun to receive that information, but sometimes it is fact and the truth. Hopefully you are not one of those people, but if you are my heart goes out to you because I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it is to try and accept and embrace it.

So, the next time that you are out somewhere and are having trouble hearing, take a good listen to the environment around you. It may just be that it is a noisy, raucous environment, unsuitable to normal, meaningful human communication.

A word comes to mind: cacophonous – having a harsh or discordant sound. There are such places to which this word is applicable!

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