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Audition and Interior Decorating

You are to be commended for realizing that furniture arrangement can make a difference. Think about these factors when rearranging a room to make hearing and communicating easier.

Distance: The closer a sound source is, the louder it will be. As you look at the floor plan of the room, the favorite chair of the person with hearing loss should be as near as possible to the important sound sources, such as the TV, the radio, and the favorite chair of family members. It is best if the person with the hearing loss can face the sound source directly. This may involve choosing who or what is more important or finding a swivel chair. Sometimes a small seating area with sofa and chairs facing each other in the middle of a large room can work well.

Noise: The room should be as quiet as possible to avoid the interference of background noise. Noise from the AC, road noise from outside, noise from other people in the house (like the kids practicing the drums) can interfere. Some noise cannot be avoided. If possible, place the person and the sound sources as far from the noise sources as possible. For example, if the compressor for the AC can be heard in one corner, try to arrange the listening area at the other side of the room. This is harder to achieve in an open floor plan where noise from a kitchen goes directly into a family room. A screen might help block some of the noise. Some equipment, like the dish washer or washing machine, can be operated at times when listening is not as important.

Lighting: Visual cues are a supplement to hearing. This could be lipreading or watching facial expressions and body language. Make sure there is good lighting on the sound sources (whether this is your face or the TV). If there is a glare in the room, make sure it is to the back of the person with the hearing loss. If he or she is looking into a glare, it will be harder to use these visual cues.

Reverberation: Room acoustics make a difference. Rooms with hard surfaces have more sound waves bouncing back and forth. This can interfere with understanding. If possible, cover large windows with fabric drapes. Put area rugs on tile floors. In some large rooms with high ceilings, hanging fabric banners can help. Ive known people who commented on the difference it made to have helium filled balloons on the ceiling. If it is not possible to soften the hard services, there may be less reverberation near a wall than in the center of the room.

Listen to one thing at a time: Most people with hearing loss have more trouble if there are several competing sounds. Let that person with the hearing loss use the remote control, so that the TV can be muted when you begin to talk.

Assistive Devices: There are devices that can improve understanding by delivering a signal that is louder than the competing background noise, such as a special TV listening device. There are others that can give a visual alert to a sound, such as a flashing light for the doorbell or the phone ringing. These may be useful, even after the room has been arranged to optimize hearing. Contact your audiologist for information about these devices.

Summary: The suggestions above, represent some basic considerations which will help hearing impaired people maximize their perception of sounds, as influenced by various acoustic and interior design issues.

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