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Nearly half of adults older than 75 are affected by age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis. While many of these seniors typically have some kind of electronic hearing aid, there’s a lot more that can contribute to the safety and quality of life for seniors who are aging in place, say experts.
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We talked to some certified aging and assistive specialists, as well as a few of our Reviewed editors, for some ideas on easy things to do to make life easier at home for people with age-related hearing impairments.
1. Maximize the sound potential of your television
Scott Grant, a certified Assistive Technology Professional based in West Virginia, suggests that before scooping up any gadgets and gizmos, you should try some easy tweaks, like turning on closed captioning on televisions, a capability that’s typically built-in on settings menus.
“Sometimes, this is enough to supplement the dialog if you are missing a few words here and there,” he says.
Also, adjusting equalizer settings can improve the quality of dialog by turning down bass levels and turning up mid- and treble levels.
The effect of moving TVs to the corner of a room means that walls act as amplifiers to bounce sound back toward those watching. “This is especially helpful when the speakers are on the back of the TV,” Grant says.
Steve Golden, of Aztec Sound and Communications Inc. in Massachusetts, says that the living room is typically the space that requires the most attention. Aztec has CAPS-certified (Certified Aging in Place) staff who specialize in working with seniors.
“TV shows are now all tracked in surround sound, and about 75% of sound for dialogue is meant to come out of a center channel speaker,” says Golden. “If you have a TV that only does stereo on the left and right sides, it’s not going to sound great—even if you’re not hearing impaired.”
Golden suggests adding a soundbar for vocal enhancement.
That doesn’t necessarily mean surround sound is the answer to hearing issues, though. Ryan Waniata, the managing editor of electronics for Reviewed, USA TODAY's product review site, suggests the most important thing is clear sound up front.
“Even in a surround mix, the vast majority of the sound information is coming from the front of the room,” Waniata says, “and ambient sound coming from the back surround channels could actually make things worse for those with hearing issues.”
He suggests instead to focus more on a soundbar with clear sound upfront, and if your budget allows, something with a dedicated center channel like Bose’s Soundbar 300.
As with your TV settings, he also recommends lowering bass for better clarity up top, especially with Yamaha’s option, as it has bass woofers built-in that could muddy the waters a bit.
2. Try a personal device to enhance sound
For the hearing impaired who live with a significant other, the volume cranked full blast on TVs or mobile devices may disturb their partner, who may not have a hearing impairment.
However, there are easy ways you can avoid irritating those you live with. Newer hearing aid models have options to run audio directly from TVs and cell phones to hearing aids, meaning others in the room can’t hear shows or baseball games, says Golden.
Sarah Kovac, Reviewed's accessibility editor, suggests Apple iPhone's new Live Listen feature.
“If you have an iPhone or iPad running iOS 14.3 or later, and AirPods or Powerbeats Pro headphones, you can make use of a new feature called Live Listen to turn up your TV’s sound without disturbing others in the house,” she says. “Just turn on Live Listen, put your iOS device next to your TV’s speaker, and the audio it picks up from its mic will stream to your headphones, which of course can be adjusted to your preferred volume.”
As another option, Grant says you can try a personal sound amplifier and recommends Jabees BHearing headphones or transmitters. These offer both amplification and background noise cancellation. The small devices are Bluetooth enabled and one comes with a customizable app to perform self-hearing tests—which may cut down on seniors’ trips to the audiologist.
3. Consider speakers to help create joy
Experts agree: Things like music and nature can have a significant impact on seniors’ sense of happiness.
In an effort to combine the two elements, Golden recommends thinking beyond the interior of a home and considering the ability to enjoy fresh air in the backyard.
One way to do this is to add outdoor speakers to a patio, backyard, or outdoor space.
“We treat the outdoors as its own room,” says Golden. “Rather than putting speakers on the outside of a building [facing out] so the whole neighborhood hears, we want to have a more ‘enclosed’ environment, so the sound comes in toward you.”
Music is also integral to another highly used space inside the home—the kitchen. “You don’t need speakers throughout your whole house, but adding them where you spend time cooking, dancing, and singing to yourself adds such quality of life,” he says.
4. Make sure you know who is coming and going
Besides enjoyment, audio adjustments can also enhance seniors’ sense of safety. Grant urges seniors to look into updating standard smoke alarms and doorbells.
Smoke alarm options include strobe lights, vibrations, or a combination of both.
Doorbells come in extra-loud versions or with smart security systems that offer visuals whenever motion is detected at the door.
Rachel Murphy, Reviewed’s senior staff writer in the smart home space, recommends any model Ring doorbell.
“The Ring hooks up to your existing chime wiring, but you can add plug-in chimes and use Echo speaker/displays as additional ways to hear the bell ring indoors. The Ring 4 can be installed anywhere—hardwire or rechargeable battery. The volume on the plug-in chimes is adjustable in the Ring app.”
For those who have hearing impairments, Murphy also says that Ring, when used with an Echo display, like the Show 5 or Show 10, is a good choice, because the live stream from the doorbell will instantly appear when someone rings the buzzer.
“You can talk from the display to the doorbell and vice versa,” she says. “Speakers and displays can also announce and give visual cues when motion is detected at the door, giving some advanced notice.” This is key for someone who has trouble hearing.
These can also be monitored remotely by friends and loved ones for added peace of mind.
Golden says many seniors opt for driveway sensors, which alert those aging in place that someone is on their property via loud alarms, flashing lights, or both.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Easy home hacks to help people with age-related hearing loss