As an audiologist, it’s important for me to understand my clients’ daily communication difficulties so I can recommend appropriate solutions. The struggle to hear and communicate while dining out is a frequent complaint. With Restaurant Week underway in New York City and other parts of the country, I’d like to address the issue of noisy restaurants and suggest hearing technology that can offer significant benefit if you have a hearing loss.
Please understand that technology can help but not solve every problem that arises in restaurants. When you’re trying out these technology solutions, be sure to apply some basic communication strategies that Ruth Bernstein summarizes nicely in her blog post Tips for Dining Out When You Have a Hearing Loss.
Your first line of defense is your hearing aids. Modern hearing aids are equipped with noise reduction circuitry and directional microphones. These two features are helpful in reducing some of the detrimental effects of background noise. But most likely you’ll still face some challenges. Additional options are:
- FM system -The FM system involves a receiver that is worn by the person with the hearing loss, and their communication partners are given a microphone. A relatively recent improvement is that multiple microphones can be used at the same time. This works well because the person speaking is close to the microphone; this way the noise is not amplified as much as the voice the listener wants to hear. This system is the “gold standard” with a premium price to match.
- Made for iPhone hearing aid – If you are using a Made for iPhone hearing aid and have an iPhone, a much less expensive way to communicate with a person in noisy situations is to turn on the “live-listen” feature in the phone. By handing your communication partner your phone, you will have created an assistive listening device that will help significantly in background noise.
- Remote mics – Several hearing aid manufacturers have remote microphones that are compatible with specific hearing aids at a price much less than that of an FM system. A remote microphone can be used with one speaker at a time or passed from speaker to speaker. These accessories are specific to certain manufacturers and models of hearing aids. Speak with your audiologist to determine what would work for you.
- Captioning app – Ava is a real-time captioning app. Utilizing the microphone of a smart phone or tablet, the app captures spoken conversations and coverts it to captions displayed real-time on the screen of the device. In a noisy restaurant, AVA will work best if the person speaks directly into a Bluetooth or wired microphone attached to the phone that is displaying the captions.
As always, it’s so important to discuss your communication difficulties with your audiologist. Together we can come up with solutions to keep you engaged in the activities you love!