a family watching TV in their living room

TV solutions for people with hearing aids

Contributed by Chief Audiologist Dr. Leslie Soiles

10/12/2023 12:00:00 AM • 8 min read

Today’s story comes from our Chief Audiologist, Dr. Leslie Soiles, who practices out of our HearingLife hearing center in Shrewsbury, MA. Dr. Soiles is also a hearing aid wearer, so she knows firsthand the struggles and triumphs of wearing hearing aids in today’s world. Today, she shares her tips for hearing the TV.

I have a new TV. It’s an LG and it’s beautiful. The picture is crystal-clear and the colors are as brilliant as the real-life fall colors in Massachusetts. It's mesmerizing visually, but I’ve had a hard time hearing it. Even with my hearing aids, I have struggled. I’m constantly adjusting my TV volume and my hearing aids. My customers at HearingLife tell me the same thing. So I set out to get some answers as to why these new TVs are so hard to hear.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it’s not all due to your hearing loss and it’s most likely not your hearing aids! Did you know that a recent YouGov survey of 1,000 adults show that more than 50% of the respondents aged 18 – 29 said they used closed captioning “always” or “most of the time”? That’s a surprising statistic. And it's not because closed captioning is the latest “cool” way to watch a movie. It's because even young adults with good hearing can’t pick up all the words.

TV adapter

Remember back in the day when you were watching “I Love Lucy,” “The Tonight Show,” or those old black-and-white movie classics? Those were all filmed with people who were trained to project their voices and the most important aspect of understanding the plot in filmmaking was the dialog, which  was crisp and clear with a little bit of background music to signify emotion. Plus, those boxy old TV sets had big speakers on the front pointing straight ahead at where you sat.

Now we have TVs that are very thin with tiny speakers on the bottom or sides. Filmmakers emphasize background sounds and music and win awards for their sound effects. Realism puts the cameras on location on street corners and construction sites. Film sound is mixed for theaters with multiple large speakers and then compressed for your TV speakers for home viewing. Plus, all the streaming stations and cable stations have different sound standards. None of this helps you to understand the dialog, especially when you have a hearing loss.

It turns out, however, there is quite a bit you can do to help with hearing the TV. First, let’s set expectations. Remember when your audiologist tested you with words in the sound room? “Say the word ‘pick,’” “Say the word ‘girl’”? They were testing your ability to decipher words at your most comfortable level in a booth that was sound treated to minimize any background noise – so that was the best you could do in the best environment without any distractions. If you scored 50%, that means that you were only able to understand every other word.

Hearing aids are not going to be able to help you hear much better than that! Especially when the speech you are trying to hear is coming through tiny speakers pointed at the wall behind the TV. If you understand 100% in the sound room, you may pick up 85 to 90% at normal volume. This is because of the limitations of the television, plus the sound effects and way they mix the sound.

Tips for Hearing your TV Better

  • First – turn on the closed captioning. Why is it that seniors are less likely than a 20-year-old to use this simple hack? Go to the settings on your tv and turn it on – you’re going to have words scrolling across the bottom of your screen, but this is a small compromise for better understanding of your favorite programs.
  • Next – look for the “menu” button on your remote control and click “enter.” Scroll down to “sound” and click “enter.” Then look for something that says “speech enhancer” or “clarity enhancer” or “dialog boost” or something to that effect and turn it on. That will enhance the speech frequencies and lower the background noise. Some content providers like Amazon Prime and Netflix are rolling out these features as well.
  • Get the app – If you have the latest hearing aids from Oticon, you can get an app on your phone with a button to press to activate the equalizer function. You can increase the high frequencies and decrease the low frequencies, and that will enhance the clarity – it may sound a bit tinny, but consonant sounds are high-frequency and you need to hear them if you want to understand words. Low frequencies are vowel sounds and they make speech sound full, but they don’t contribute much to clarity.
  • Get a good sound bar. I know... you just bought the TV and now you have to purchase something else so you can understand it? Yes! It will probably cost at least $500 to $1,000 to get a good one, but it will be well worth the money when you can understand and enjoy your beautiful TV AND the sound. 
  • Purchase a Bluetooth®  headset if you watch TV alone. If you wear hearing aids, pick one that has ear cups that go over your ears (yes, you can put these right over your hearing aids). 
  • Purchase a loop system for your living room. You will need to find a contractor to do the installation. A unit will be connected to the TV, and it will send the sound through a loop that can be hidden under your carpet or in the ceiling, which will induce a magnetic signal into the room. You can put your hearing aids in the T-coil program and the sound will be delivered directly to your hearing aids at whatever level you need. Costs vary based on the installer you choose, and the system isn’t portable. However, the sound is excellent.


What is the best solution for hearing your TV with hearing aids? A TV adapter!

Go to your hearing care provider and purchase a TV adapter. Plug in the power cord, then plug in the optical cord to the optical port on your TV, and boom... the sound is in your head and it's as clear as it's ever going to get. Your family can watch at a comfortable volume while you will be listening at whatever level is good for you. If you go to the kitchen to make a snack you won’t miss anything – the sound will come with you. The costs vary by manufacturer. As an example, Oticon currently charges $275. Reasonably priced and it’s got “wow” factor. 

Remember, your hearing is not perfect, and we are not watching programming made for people with hearing loss. But you can maximize your enjoyment with this simple solution, and you can take it with you anywhere you watch TV! Give your HearingLife provider a call to get your TV adapter – or, if you aren’t a customer yet, schedule your complimentary hearing assessment today.

Leslie Soiles, Chief Audiologist
Dr. Leslie Soiles

Au.D., Doctor of Audiology
Lic. #364, Chief Audiologist, HearingLife

Dr. Leslie Soiles founded HearingLife's Shrewsbury's office (formerly New England Hearing Instruments) in 1996. As a Doctor of Audiology, she has worked with Ear, Nose and Throat Physicians for the first 20 years of her career.

Dr. Soiles serves as Chief Audiologist for HearingLife. Click here to read her complete bio and learn more about her education and background.

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