Sounds (often pleasant) and noises (can be loud or irritating) persist in our environment. Each of us is bombarded constantly. We live in a very noisy world that has an endless strains of noises that can be soft, pleasant, and soothing – such as birds chirping, backyard water features or mountain streams, mild breezes, and classical or easy listening music – or they can be busy and loud – traffic, sirens, planes, and motors, for instance.
Just normal living takes its toll on our senses, but hearing is constantly at risk – often by sounds and noise levels that we can’t easily control. Each person is going to be different, but estimates run as much as one-out-three people over the age of 65 with some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss as we age, and the potential for it at an even younger age seem to be on the rise due to the constant exposure to a wide variety of noises.
In the home, we have television and radio, videos, games, appliance indicator tones, fan motors, HVAC blowers, vacuum cleaners, blenders, hair dryers, hand-held electrical appliances, alarms, and so much more making various noises with a range of volumes and decibels throughout the day.
These noises inside the home are not necessarily easy to control, reduce, or eliminate. Even trying to shut out ambient noise can create its own set of issues when earbuds or earphones are used to listen to music and are turned to a level that may not be safe but somewhat necessary to hear over the other noises present. Sometimes normal conversation has to get louder than normal to compete with or rise above the other noises in the home.
In the workplace, playground, shopping venues, and other places outside the home, we are exposed to constant noises, sudden noises, overly loud noises, and a range of sounds over which we have no control except to distance ourselves from them to the extent possible, Often this is not feasible.
There are sirens from emergency vehicles, airplanes and helicopters passing overhead, traffic (both going by and that we are in), construction, garbage trucks, horns, the car radio or CD (trying to compete with the noises going on outside the car), weather alerts, thunder, loudspeakers and PA systems, leaf and snow blowers, other yard equipment, pool and spa pumps, fireworks, and the occasional unexpected loud noise from equipment malfunction.
As aging in place professionals, we need to be sensitive to the fact that people may not be able to hear us as well as we expect when we are talking with them or that we need to include visual signals in their home to signal alarms, doorbells, and other sounding devices to make sure they are noticed.
Over a lifetime, there are concerts that we have attended, loud restaurants or night spots where we have been, and we have mowed the lawn and run countless tools, small engines, and appliances – often with noisy motors and without taking adequate precautions to muffle the loud noises.
We can’t escape sound, nor would we want to. We have two excellent receivers (our ears). We can do our best to reduce or eliminate loud noises, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s not always possible.
The point is that people – over their lifetime to whatever their age – have experienced many sounds and noises that may have impacted their hearing or may in the future. This is what we need to be aware of and take into account as aging-in-place professionals so we can work more effectively with people.
The good news is that technology is coming out with many ways to work with this issue – and likely will continue to do so. Still, protecting our hearing is serious business – as are the constant threats to it.