How Far Can You Hear with a Hearing Aid?

Getting hearing aids

Getting hearing aids to assist with hearing loss is life-changing.

However, it can be easy to think you should be hearing more than what you do.

Quite simply, what you hear and what you think you should hear are vastly different. To understand this, we need to look at:

  • The effect of distance on hearing sound
  • The impact of distance on speech understanding, including why your ability to understand speech decreases when a person is far away
  • The impact of background noise on sound and speech understanding at a distance
  • The effect of sound reflections on speech at a distance
  • Strategies to help you hear in difficult listening situations 

The Effect of Distance on Understanding Speech

The Effect of Distance on Hearing Sound

It’s easy to think that once you start wearing hearing aids, you’ll hear all conversations regardless of how far away the speaker is. However, this isn’t true.

The inverse square law from acoustics tells us that the loudness of a person’s voice declines with increasing distance from the speaker. For example, the speaker’s voice will decline by six decibels for every doubling of distance from the sound source. Put simply, even people with normal hearing will have difficulty hearing speech far away.

There is a critical distance for optimal hearing in different listening situations. The critical distance will change depending on the complexity of the listening situation. For example, when talking to another person in a quiet environment, you should sit no more than one metre apart. However, in noisy environments, this distance is significantly less. 

The Effect of Distance on Understanding Speech

In addition to the degradation of sound over distance so too does a person’s ability to understand speech. 

Like the inverse square law, distance’s effect on understanding speech involves knowledge of acoustics.

Simply put, speech sounds are made up of different frequencies or pitches. Low-frequency sounds give words volume, and high sounds give spoken word clarity. 

In addition, low pitched sounds can travel further due to their bigger sound waves, and high pitched sounds cannot travel as far due to their smaller sound waves. Therefore, speech intelligibility decreases when the speaker is further away, as the speech becomes muffled.

The Effect of Background Noise on Understanding Sound and Speech at a Distance 

Hearing speech in a perfect, quiet listening setting rarely happens. Instead, most conversations will take place where there is background noise. 

While most people with normal hearing can hear speech over a longer distance in background noise, people with hearing loss can find increased difficulty. 

Research has shown that when background noise is present, hearing speech significantly declines. To overcome this, you either need to move closer to the speaker or sound source or increase the overall volume of the sound source. 

The Effect of Sound Reflections

The Effect of Sound Reflections on Understanding Sound and Speech at a Distance

In addition to hearing someone speak in a room with background noise, many real-world conversations will happen where the room is full of different sounds. 

The presence of these sounds reduces a person’s ability to understand speech over long distances for people with normal hearing, but even more so for those with hearing loss. 

In a noisy room, sound bounces off the walls, ceiling and floor. This effect is often heard in large auditoriums, churches and even classrooms. It is why so many people report difficulty hearing and understanding speech when seated towards the middle or the back of a church or theatre. 

Simply put, the speech heard is a combination of what comes from the priest in church or the actors on stage and sound reflected from the different surfaces in the room. This frequently results in extremely poor speech understanding. To improve hearing in this situation, it’s essential to move close to the original sound source. 

Strategies to Improve Hearing When the Speaker is Further Away 

Communication is unfortunately always going to involve hearing speech from a distance. 

However, some strategies can assist in those situations. For example, in many churches, movie theatres, airports and train stations, you can access the hearing loop through your hearing aids, enabling the spoken word to stream directly to your hearing aids. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to hear one person from a distance, you can utilise a remote microphone setup. For example, if you need to listen to a university lecture, you can ask the lecturer to wear the microphone, and their speech will be streamed to your hearing aids. 

To further discuss these sorts of situations, get in touch with your local Audiologist. 

In Summary

The journey of hearing aids begins with purchasing the devices, but there are many more aspects that need to be carefully understood to get the most out of your hearing aids.

Hearing aids can be expected to work well when you are at an optimal distance and in a quiet environment. As soon as you start to add other noises, it becomes difficult. 

If you have recently been diagnosed with hearing loss and are looking for quality hearing aids, visit the EarDeals website

We offer a range of quality and affordable hearing aids. Not sure which hearing aids are right for you? Email us, and one of our brokers will help you through the decision making process. 

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