Background noise can be a nuisance for some, while others seem to thrive on it, and the more noise the better.
But for the hearing impaired, background noise can mean the difference between understanding what's going on and being thoroughly confused.
My husband, father and brother have each had some degree of hearing loss for much of their lives. Yet even though I have been surrounded by people who are hard of hearing, I don't know how the world sounds to them.
Purdue University has done some research on what this is like for the hearing impaired.
According to a Sept. 11, 2012 article on ScienceDaily.com said that 36 million adults in the United States have hearing loss to some extent.
Hearing loss can be caused by damage to the cochlea's sensory cells as well as to neurons in the cochlea. The cochlea is important because it changes sound into electrical transmissions to the brain.
Kenneth S. Henry, a postdoctoral researcher for the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Purdue University, was one of the researchers. He indicated that in a quiet environment the cochlear neurons of people who are hearing-impaired operated adequately.
But in a noisy environment, the temporal structure experienced a decrease in coding ability by auditory nerve fibers. In other words, the hearing impaired have trouble making out what they're hearing in a noisy room.
In a room full of noise, channels of the auditory system are less focused and sharp for the hearing impaired. The auditory nerve fibers are less able to stay focused. Henry said that the neurons of the inner ear are spread too thin to do their job properly.
We knew that a room full of loud people poses a problem for those who are hard of hearing. This study gives more understanding as to what is going in within the hearing impaired ear.
The research may be helpful in the design of hearing aids and other equipment used by the hearing impaired. Improvements on design should focus on noise-reduction algorithms in a hearing aid, according to researchers, so that the auditory nerve can receive a clearer signal.
All this seems to fit with what I have been told by people who are hard of hearing. In a room where several people are talking, and especially if the television is on as well, what they hear sounds like a wall of noise.
Being able to pick out what one person is saying, or even where the sound is coming from in the room can be impossible.
Other research out of Purdue University dealt with young children learning how to talk. George Hollich, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, said that young children can experience similar challenges to those experienced by adults who are hearing impaired.
In a noisy setting, both the young and the older ones have a hard time focusing in on what is being said by one person due to the other noise in the room.
The person who is hard of hearing may be able to get some relief with the use of hearing aids. As a friend or family member, though there are things that you can do that will help to reduce the wall of noise.
In a group setting, do your part to ensure that only one conversation is taking place at a time. Two or more conversations can make it difficult or impossible for the hearing impaired to decipher what is being said and by whom, and from which direction.
Common sense suggests that you speak clearly, and don't speak too fast. Because what the person who is hard of hearing is listening to is nothing like what the rest of us hear.
Hearing Impaired Ears Hear Differently in Noisy Environments. ScienceDaily.com. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2012.
Background Noise Affects Hearing Impaired. Personalliberty.com. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2012.
Background Noise Can Impair Language Development in Children.Betterhearing.org. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2012.
How to help someone with problems in background noise. Deaftalk.co.uk. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2012.
Reviewed September 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN