Optimizing Classroom Acoustics

Classroom acoustics are a crucial part of a child’s education experience and development. If the arrangement of chairs or the layout of the room impedes the natural flow of sound, then the amount of information heard and retained can be affected. This is especially true for your hard-of-hearing students.

REM has written about this before. In that blog, we covered everything from proper layout to national standards and recommendations. In this blog, we want to focus on the specifics of classroom setups.

Chair Positions

The single greatest thing you can do to help improve acoustics is properly position your students’ seats.

The closer a child sits to the teacher, the louder the speech signal will be, and the more they’ll be able to hear. Students who sit in the back of the classroom may have a harder time listening, participating, and learning. A half circle might be the best configuration for desks, allowing the teacher to project at an equal distance from everybody. If this isn’t possible, talking and walking (roaming the aisles) might be the way to go, with desks placed at inward, center-facing angles.

For hard-of-hearing students, a wireless FM system or Roger™ Pen might provide the best benefit, allowing hearing aids to pick up any transmitted speech.

Classroom Materials

  1. If the ground is uncarpeted, consider adding soft materials (such as felt or cork board) on the walls to help with unnecessary reverberation.
  2. Rubber stoppers or tennis balls on chair and table legs can reduce ambient scratches or squeaks.
  3. Hanging curtains over the windows — if allowed to do so — might help keep some of the noise at an acceptable, even level.

Ambient Noise

Everything from your overhead lights, to air conditioning or heating units, to outside traffic, can add a layer of unwanted noise. Though these might be harder to control, be sure to turn off any equipment you’re not using, and (if possible) replace or move anything broken or portable. Always remember, too, to regularly ask your students if they’re having any trouble hearing you speak.

Learn More

Classroom Acoustics are an important part of your children’s education. Please see the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) for more information on what you can do to optimize your learning environment.

Summertime Localization

Since it’s summer, odds are you’ll find yourself outside more than usual, and whether you’re going to street festivals, fairs, amusement or water parks, you’ll want to be aware of your hearing aid’s localization features.

What is localization?

Localization is the ability to determine the direction and placement of sound and noise, and is important for spatial awareness, balance, and location comprehension. Those with hearing loss often have trouble with the localization of sound.

What does this mean for summer activities?

Being able to hear the world around you is an incredibly important part of staying aware and safe, and unlike at home or indoors, the sounds of an outdoor environment can be a bit more unpredictable.

If you find yourself surrounded by a lot of people, you’ll also be surrounded by a lot of sound. To someone with hearing impairment, this could be like hearing a low roar, a flat level of noise coming from no particular direction. This not only limits your interaction with those around you, but can also cause safety issues.

What can you do?

  • Be sure to talk to your audiologist about how your hearing aid processes sound in a 3D environment.
  • Before you buy an aid, research different brands. Oticon Opn™, for instance, has a lot of good localization features, including rapid noise reduction and speech clarity support.
  • If you notice an increased difficulty hearing or comprehending speech or noise in big crowds, don’t ignore it. Maybe you need another hearing assessment, or maybe your aid simply needs an up-to-date adjustment.

Don’t waste your summer worrying about noise outside.

Summer Exercise and Hearing Aids

Summer is hot and maybe sweaty. How can you protect your aids during summer exercise?

Whether you’re running marathons or just going for a walk in the park, moisture buildup can be a real problem during the hottest months of the year. Both humidity and sweat can introduce water droplets into your device, clogging or shorting out the interior components.

Signs Your Hearing Aid Has A Water Problem

Healthy Hearing outlines a list of symptoms, ranging from your aid cutting out during loud noises to fading sound or intermittent static. You may also encounter corrosion in the battery compartment or moisture in the tubing, both of which you’ll be able to see.

Your aid’s health can gradually diminish before it suddenly stops working, so it’s important to take immediate note of any changes. The more you’re familiar with your device’s baseline sound-processing quality, the quicker you can address any potential problems.

Solutions

  1. Talk to your audiologist. They’ll know better than anyone else what to do.
  2. Switch out and test new batteries. Water could simply be trapped between the battery and the contact.
  3. Invest in a dehumidifier. This is preventative more than anything, but each night, or after each workout, use one of these handy and portable machines to help dry out your aid.

Summer Exercise

  1. Work out during a cooler part of the day.
  2. Wear headbands and wristbands to help “catch” your sweat.
  3. Look into protective covers for your hearing aids. Ear Gear, for example, is a nylon-spandex sleeve that fits over most devices.
  4. Keep your warranty information handy, and know your coverage (just in case).

To escape the heat, check out our past blog about exercising with aids during the winter.

Acoustic Ecology

Could the way you listen to the world be wrong?

Of course not. There is no one way to hear the world around you. But according to a little known discipline referred to as acoustic ecology, the relationship between people and their planet is deeply connected to their perception and interaction with sound.

There could be ways of listening you’ve never even considered.

In a sense, acoustic ecology can be understood as helping to define a certain way of life, a method to ethically engage with what R. Murray Schafer refers to as soundscapes. “Our senses are clogged with too much,” Schafer says. “If we become too dominant and too unobservant about the other sounds in the environments…then we’re ruining the richness of our whole lives.”

Selective listening — is that what he’s getting at?

Kind of. Schafer talks often of noise pollution, argues how it can actively lower the quality of one’s life (he refers to the industrial revolution as a worldwide harbinger of constant, “droning” sound). But he also puts the responsibility to hear squarely on the individual’s shoulders. People, in a sense, have to re-learn how to listen.

A soundscape is an “acoustic environment as perceived by humans.” It can be passive, active, natural, or man-made. People can manipulate soundscapes through what they choose to hear or block out, and social systems can impose soundscapes on a population, often without thought. It is a complex back-and-forth between us and what’s around us.

What does that mean?

In the late 1960’s, Schafer created the World Soundscape Project as a way to organize, categorize, present, and preserve the sounds of select sound environments. Its ultimate goal was to “find solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape,” and search for a symmetry between humans, their communities, and their “sonic environments.”

Balance is an important word to Schafer and acoustic ecologists. Acoustic ecology is all about finding harmony.

What can we do?

Schafer’s influence extends to today. In Chicago, the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology holds events promoting field recordings and “soundwalks” (“focused listening” through a “soundscape with complete attention to sound”). Certain musicians** believe that music can help heal our “relationship with the natural world.” Environmentalists around the world, too, believe that paying attention to sound can help preserve certain ecological habitats.

Though interaction with sound, noise, and soundscapes is not limited to one side, it is essentially up to us to choose how to listen. As Eric Leonardson puts it: “when people stop listening, noise pollution occurs.

**It’s not hard to see why many AE practitioners are also composers. Music can be a way to combine the disparate sounds of the world into something easily perceived, enjoyed, and contemplated.

Tinnitus Education

Tinnitus education starts early at REM! For children especially, early management of tinnitus can help prevent future issues, such as hearing loss due to noise exposure.

And while it’s very important to not draw undue attention to tinnitus in a child lest they over-focus on or invent its presence, it is likewise important for parents and physicians to pay attention to any unsolicited complaints of ringing, buzzing, or “foreign” sounds in their ears.

What Do We Propose?

The presence of tinnitus symptoms can be due to noise (maybe they’re listening to loud music through earbuds), certain medications, or even a past head injury. It can be harmless or require immediate attention. There are a lot of variables, and it’s important to figure out what’s what.

REM recommends that all school-aged children receive at least 1 hearing test in their elementary years. That might be the perfect time to not only talk about hearing loss — its risks, what it feels (and sounds) like — but also what to do if they experience any “hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring or ringing” in their ears.

Again, you don’t want to overemphasize tinnitus, as a small amount of ringing in the ears can be both normal and — to the detriment of the child — hyper-focused on. But you may want to ask them to describe — in their own words — what sounds they normally hear. If they detail anything out of the ordinary, it may provide cause to investigate possible signs of tinnitus further and maybe even come up with a treatment or management plan for the future.

How Does Tinnitus Manifest in Children?

As in adults, every case is different. The most common symptoms, according to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) are:

  • “Reports of ringing, buzzing, clicking, whistling, humming, hissing, or roaring sound
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Poor attention and restlessness in a very young child
  • Tantrums, irritability, and your child holding his head or ears
  • Severe fatigue
  • Anxiety or depression”

CHOP also breaks down why tinnitus in children is something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. It may be temporary (a side effect of exposure to a loud noise), but tinnitus could also signal “damage to the inner ear,” which can cause hearing impairment and affect concentration, learning, and development in the classroom.

It’s Up To Us

“About one-third of children suffer from tinnitus at some point, but the condition often goes unnoticed. In many cases, the child is too young to describe what they’re hearing, has come to think of it as normal, or is not troubled by the experience enough to mention it,” CHOP also writes.

It’s a tricky situation, trying to diagnose something you don’t necessarily want to draw attention to. But since a lot of children don’t notice tinnitus, or can’t articulate its symptoms if they do, it’s up to us to find a way to help.

Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. What can you do to help spread awareness?

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.” Given enough time, it can harm your ability to remember, hold conversation, or carry out simple tasks. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, and ranks somewhere between third and sixth as the leading cause of death in older Americans.

Your Mind and Your Body

As audiologists, we naturally want to know how Alzheimer’s can influence your hearing health. The brain is your command center, and when it starts to change, so does your body. When a disorder like Alzheimer’s takes hold, your physical sense of self can be just as affected as your mind.

New research suggests a link between dementia, hearing loss, cognitive load, and social isolation, with hearing loss as the catalyst. Though hearing loss does not directly cause Alzheimer’s (or dementia), it can lead to lifestyle and medical changes that can sometimes, in a sense, “open the door.”

This is why getting an annual hearing assessment* — especially if you’re aged 55 or older — is important. If early identification and intervention can even slightly help prevent Alzheimer’s, then a hearing test is something every person needs to regularly receive.

Help Spread the Word

Check out the Alzheimer’s Association to see what you can do to help. Ideas include wearing (and turning your social media profiles) purple, sharing your story, and more.

For more information about the mind and hearing heath, check out past REM blogs on the relationship between hearing loss and dementia and brain aging & memory loss.

*See office for details

BHSM & Beyond

Now that Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) is coming to a close, you might find yourself wondering what else you can do to help raise awareness about communication disorders.

To Recap BHSM

Communication disorders in children are not as uncommon as some may believe. Their prevalence as well as their lower than ideal treatment numbers makes them an increasingly pervasive issue, and similar numbers are seen in adults. “At least 20 percent of U.S. adults, at some point in their lives, have a significant problem with hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, or language,” according to the NIDCD.

If left untreated, communication disorders — which may or may not be developmental, but which can always affect a child’s development — can negatively influence one’s life for the worse. What ASHA and other organizations have undertaken with BHSM is a month aimed to help spread awareness about the importance of early intervention, no matter what stage of life you find yourself or your kids at.

For The Future

So, you’ve already shared all you could on your facebook and twitter feeds. You’ve used the #bhsm hashtag to connect with others. Maybe you even donated some money. What now?

* Just because BHSM is almost over, doesn’t mean your awareness campaign has to stop. Continue visiting the ASHA, the ASHA Leader, the NIDCD websites, which are always being updated with new and crucal information to share. If you’re not already, be sure to also follow their social media accounts. You can find similar speech and hearing resources through google, as well, and do the same.

* Get creative! Creativity is the best way to reach those who might not know about a certain topic. Take a peek at ASHA’s new children’s book, for example, aimed at helping siblings of kids with communication disorders.

* Talk to your congresspeople. If you want to reach a wider audience, this may be a great way forward. ASHA outlines the basics of what you should know about approaching your local governing body or representatives.

* Talk to your medical community. Local hospitals and clinics probably have the best ideas on how to approach spreading the news.

* Talk to your schools. Does your school system offer regular hearing screenings? How well do they manage to monitor for any developmental or comprehension issues their students may face? How well do they implement their IEP’s or 504 plans? It never hurts to ask. Maybe you can even inspire the board to be more proactive if they aren’t already.

There is a lot you can do, and the best part is — if you want to help make communication disorders into a more approachable and known topic of conversation — you don’t have to spend too much time doing it.

Shopping with Hearing Loss

We all know that hearing loss — whether mild or severe — can affect everyday life in significant ways. Trying to hold a conversation, listen to a lecture, or spend time in public can seem daunting, especially if your hearing once functioned at an ideal level. That’s why shopping with hearing loss is a big issue for many, as well as one that a lot of people — and a few establishments — might not give a second thought.

What is easy and taken for granted by some, can be a challenge for others.

The best thing you can do is make sure you have a hearing aid with a good signal-to-noise ratio, a device designed to process speech and sound at an optimum level. Such aids will assist your awareness of speech in space and conversation around you. If you’re interested, ask your audiologist for more info. They might even be able to offer suggestions on how to better adjust or tweak the settings on your current pair.

Above and beyond that, it never hurts to call the store you plan on visiting, especially if you’re still concerned. Management or customer service will often be more than happy to give you a run down of their services, and maybe even a quick description of their layout. Knowing what to expect before you arrive is a big part of facing the challenge in front of you. Anxiety won’t affect your hearing, but it can severely limit your interactions.

Although there are no federal or local ADA requirements retail establishments must follow in regards to hearing issues, some shops will still offer hearing loss amenities. A telecoil (or T-loop), if available, can help in busier locations if you need to understand any announcements or information broadcast throughout the store, and if you’re looking for more personal service, some locations might devote time to one-on-one assistance.

The most important thing you want to ask yourself before shopping is, “what kind of store will I be visiting?” — a grocery store, for instance, is a mostly visual buying experience. A computer shop, on the other hand, or place where you have questions about replacement or repair, might require that personal assistance (maybe a fair bit more than others). But that’s ok! Don’t be embarrassed to broach your concerns when you arrive (or call). If you’re upfront about your hearing loss, most places will be more than happy to help you however they can with whatever you need.

New smart phone apps on the market can also help. Google Live Transcribe, for example, is a new feature you can access if you have an android. This app “automatically transcribes speech in near-real time”. If you have an iPhone and AirPods, you can also easily take advantage of their sound amplifier technology.

For more of REM’s practical hearing loss advice guides, be sure to check out our Seeing Movies with Hearing Loss and Summertime Hearing Tips blogs.

Better Hearing & Speech Month 2019

Better Hearing & Speech Month is an important yearly campaign designed to help raise awareness about communication disorders, and every year we at REM do our best to help spread its message. The more people know about their child’s and their own communication norms and deviations — the more information they have — the greater control they can have over their own future.

Communication Across the Lifespan” is this month’s theme, which ASHA breaks up by age. Week 1 (May 5 — 11), is all about communication disorders in infants, while week 2 (May 12 — 18) focuses on toddlers. Week 3 (May 19 – 25) highlights school-aged children, and week 4 (May 26 — 31) centers on adults.

Communication disorders are “wide ranging and can affect everything from comprehension to speech and language development,” we wrote in a previous blog. How well your child receives and processes information partly influences their education and mental progress. If something isn’t working properly, if the signals are getting mixed somewhere, help is needed as soon as possible.

This is why Better Hearing & Speech Month is important, especially when you consider that not only have “1 in 4 parents of U.S. children ages 0-8…had concerns about their child’s ability to communicate,” but that more than one quarter of these same parents — for a myriad of reasons — “have not sought treatment for their child.” This is something we want to fix. With early intervention and help by speech-language pathologists and audiologists, noticeable improvement over time is often more than possible.

Keep your eyes on our blog and webpage for more BHSM updates. We have a lot planned for this month.

Bananas and Hearing

Can bananas help your hearing? Maybe!

“In the same way that we are told to drink milk to keep our bones strong we are now being encouraged to eat bananas to protect our hearing.”

Why? It all has to do with potassium (and aldosterone).

Potassium is an important mineral for the “fluid in your inner ear”, where the noises you hear are translated into “electrical impulses the brain interprets as sound.” Aldosterone, on the other hand, is a steroid hormone “produced in the adrenal cortex”, which can drop and affect your sodium and potassium benchmarks.

Though eating foods rich in potassium will not affect your aldosterone levels, some say they can help your overall health, and possibly your hearing health as well. If your potassium levels are low — which can affect your hearing — it only makes sense to increase your potassium intake. It certainly won’t hurt (though we always recommend talking to a doctor before any major increase in mineral or supplement consumption).

So eat that banana. Eat a couple. And consider, maybe, keeping your ears open for future developments in aldosterone treatment, which have been shown by some to slow the “progression of age-related hearing loss.”