Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weigh In: Dealing with Hearing Aids in Noisy Places

One of my readers wrote in to ask some advice. He'd like to know if anyone has any tips for dealing with noisy places while wearing a hearing aid, and is wondering if the servers at the restaurant would be confused or annoyed if he wrote things down.

Noisy restaurants are one of those things that is very problematic for me. There are so many things that can cause difficulty hearing in a restaurant: other customers talking, background music, sounds from the kitchen (especially beeping machinery), traffic outside, servers communicating with customers, and many other problems. But of course, visiting a restaurant with friends and family is just one of those things in life that few people want to give up - it's fun and relaxing.

As someone working in a service industry (though not a restaurant), I can tell you that the people helping you are there to do just that, help you out. Both of you want to communicate as effectively as possible, and I can't see a server objecting to anyone writing things down to ensure better communication. Sure, they may be surprised or caught off-guard if you whip out a notebook and start writing, but most people will catch on. There are several people who visit the library I work at regularly who cannot communicate verbally for a multitude of reasons. It is never a difficulty to help them.

Here are a few tips I've found in years of visiting restaurants. Please share your own ideas for J. in the comments, and thank you for your input!

Sit at a round table.
Sitting at a circular table rather than a rectangular or square one means you'll have better line-of-sight with your dining companions, to read their lips and see their expressions.

Sit with your back to a wall. 
It's much easier for me when I'm against a wall, with sound coming mostly from in front of me, than when I'm in the middle of a room, surrounded on all sides by noise. If possible, get a table up against a wall - if not, sit with your back to the quietest area of the room.

Anticipate the server.
This is one of those "survival tricks" I use often. Take a look at the menu. If the restaurant offers an option of side choices with the entree, you can expect the server will ask you what you want on the side, and you can listen for that question. If you look at the drink choices, you'll know if there's several options for iced tea available, and anticipate that the server will ask which you would like. Knowing the questions that are about to come up means you'll know what to listen for.
Check the settings on your hearing aid.
I've written before on my blog about a setting my audiologist put in my hearing aid for me. If I activate this program, the sound to my left, right, and behind me fades away while sound in front of me is amplified. This is very nice when I need to hear people in front of me but background sound is unimportant. If possible, talk to your audiologist about a similar program for your hearing aid.

Don't be afraid to move.
If you explain your situation to a server or the restaurant manager, they will almost always be happy to accommodate you. They are there to make money, and they don't want to lose it - plus they want to see people happy. If you see that there's another table that would be much easier for you, just ask.

Ask to turn the music down.
This may not make you the most popular person in the restaurant - or maybe the other customers are annoyed by the music, too, and you may just become the person of the hour for making your request of the staff. Quiet music leads to quieter people, and everyone becomes more aware of how loud they are being. Again, don't be afraid to ask.

I know everyone must have more tips! Let me and other readers know in the comments. If you have a question or need advice, don't hesitate to email me at hearing sparks at gmail dot com. I'll try my best to help and post it on this blog for more advice.


  1. I love round tables too, but if they are not available, I try to pick the most central seat at the table. I've even asked to swap seats if I'm not early enough to grab the best seat. People are quite understanding once they know the reason. Also, and especially for outdoor dining, I make sure my back is to the main light light source, so that the faces of others are better illuminated than mine.

  2. For me I find having my back to a noisy background. That way the noisy background is reduced and I concentrate on the person in front of me.

  3. Judy - That idea about the light source is great! I've never thought of it like that before; I'll have to keep it in mind next time I'm outside.

    L1zblog - Very interesting! For me it is the exact opposite. I love how things can be so different for everyone.

  4. I prefer to sit with my back to the noise, then switch on my directional microphone. Without directional mic, having your back to the wall is a good strategy. Great suggestions!

  5. Great post. Very informative.


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