Today’s blog is from Dolores Gauthier, our hearing care provider at HearingLife in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She has been helping people hear better for 14 years. Dolores 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 best 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 fall foliage on display during peak season in Door County, Wisconsin. It's mesmerizing. Too bad I can’t understand half of the shows on TV. Is it my hearing aids? They are new – the best out there – and I’m a hearing professional! I never had this problem when I was young. I would turn on the TV and set the volume one time and it was good for the whole evening. Now, I’m constantly adjusting my TV volume and my hearing aids. My customers tell me the same thing. So I set out to get some answers so you don’t have to.
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! Clearly you are at a disadvantage with poor hearing, but that is not the whole story. 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 whopper of a 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.
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 extremely 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 tiny 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.
So, what can you do to make it better? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Before we go into that, we need to mention that hearing aids are just that...they are aids....they will not restore your hearing to 100%. Remember when your audiologist tested you with words in the sound room? “Say the word ‘pick,’” “Say the word ‘girl’” ... etc.? She/he was testing your ability to decipher words at your most comfortable level in a booth that was sound treated to minimize any background noise – and, she/he probably used a recorded male voice that had been standardized and tested for repeatability – in other words, this is the best you could do in the best environment without auditory distractions. If you scored 50%, that means that you were only able to understand every other word. Do not think that a pair of hearing aids (no matter how much you paid for them) is going to allow you to understand every word that is being said on a device that has miniature speakers pointed at the floor. It just isn’t going to happen. You will be lucky to pick up 40%, but at least you won’t need the TV blasting your neighbors off the porch. 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 tv combined with the over-exuberant sound effects and crazy way they mix the sound.
Tips for Hearing your TV Better
- First – turn on the closed captioning. Why is it that seniors are far 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 shelled out a bunch of money for 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.
- 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.
- 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 voila... 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 no longer 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! Call your local HearingLife today to order a TV adapter.