TV Volume Wars

Tech tools can help with hearing loss, without pumping up the volume

Louder is not always better. Certainly, that’s the case with TV volume. Many older adults with hearing loss turn up the TV volume to high levels, much to the chagrin of anyone else in the home.

TV volume wars can be daunting, but the war to lower the volume can be won with the aid of technology, says Ann Hollander, founder of Options for Aging, a geriatric care management company based in Wilmette.

“For many seniors, watching TV is one of their main activities,” she says. “When there is hearing loss, the volume is increased, which is usually not a problem. But it’s difficult if there are others watching TV, and the sound is on full blast.”

Hollander says she is familiar with the problem not only in her professional life but in her personal life as well. Her 88-year-old father has hearing loss.

“Like many others, he is convinced he doesn’t have trouble hearing,” she says. “He thinks that everyone else has a problem and accuses others of mumbling when they talk. He asks his grandchildren why they’re talking so softly.” Although her father did buy hearing aids, Hollander adds, “He leaves them in a drawer because he says they are uncomfortable and make him look old.”

Often, people with hearing impairments don’t use hearing aids because they’re inconvenient, expensive, or hard to use. Their answer to hearing loss: Pump up the volume.

But that approach doesn’t always fly with others in the home. We talked to local experts about the effects of hearing loss, as well as tools that can help people hear the television better — without cranking up the volume.

The pitfalls of hearing loss

About half of people age 75 and older have disabling hearing loss, but many shun hearing aids. Less than a third of adults age 70 who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Some people find hearing aids unaffordable — they’re expensive and are not covered by Medicare. Others deny they need hearing aids, and some people who have purchased hearing aids may not wear them because of inadequate function or ambient noise.

But it’s important to address hearing loss. Studies show that people with hearing loss suffer from loneliness, depression, and anxiety and have a greater risk of developing dementia. Hearing loss also limits the ability to connect with family, friends, and others.

“Hearing is a significant factor in connecting to the world,” says social worker Daxa Sanghiv, a caregiver specialist at the Kenneth Young Center in Elk Grove Village. “When our hearing is affected, it produces ripple effects at many levels. It reduces socialization and activity levels, which often leads to depression and other health problems including dementia.”

Hearing loss has ramifications. When an older adult doesn’t understand what people are saying, they may withdraw from activities rather than ask others to repeat themselves. They also face increased risks, including not being able to hear warning devices such as most smoke alarms.

Solutions to the TV volume wars

Of all the ways to compensate for hearing loss, turning up the TV volume may be the one that annoys family members the most.

In order to establish a truce in the TV volume wars, Hollander suggests solutions that help older adults enjoy TV without assaulting others in the household with ear-shattering sound. Try these tips:

Turn on closed captioning. With closed captions, the spoken words and a description of the audio sound appear in captions at the bottom of the screen, so your loved one can read along with the audio. Depending on the device, you can turn on closed captioning through the remote control or on the TV menu settings.

Adjust the audio. Experiment with changing the audio settings on your TV’s menu to improve the clarity of the sound. You may be able to reduce background noise, enhance spoken dialogue, or increase the treble or bass.

Use personal amplification devices. These devices can bring the sound closer to people with hearing impairments or even directly into their ears. Such devices may also eliminate background noise that muffles the voices, which will make voices easier to understand. Some options include:

  • A small, wearable voice amplifier. You can clip this lightweight device, such as a PockeTalker, to the person’s clothing, or they can wear it on a lanyard around their neck. It amplifies voices and reduces background noise. You can adjust the device, which comes with earbuds and earphones, to amplify low frequencies or high frequencies.
  • A soundbar. This long, slim speaker connects to the TV. It enhances the audio and clarifies sound so it’s easier to understand people speaking. Usually, a soundbar is mounted above or below the television, but you may be able to place it near the person with hearing loss.
  • A lightweight, portable speaker. Devices, such as the Sereonic TV Soundbox, amplify the sound of the TV. You can place this device next to the person with hearing loss. Sound boxes have volume control and can be used with earphones.
  • Wireless headphones. Styles that cup the ear create a clearer sound because they block out noise in the room and enhance speech on the TV. The headphones typically have a volume control feature, and you can adjust frequencies on some models. Some have a cable connection so the user must stay within the line of sight of the broadcast box; others feature Bluetooth and radio frequency technology so the user can move about.

Resources

For further information about personal assisted hearing devices, check out:

No one wants to engage in a TV volume war. Instead, use this as an opportunity to help loved ones with hearing loss accept the advantages that technology can bring. And maybe it will open the door to future hearing aid use, too.