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A Compelling Case to Turn Down the Volume

by Gail Richard
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Better Hearing and Speech Month provides audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech and hearing scientists an extra reason to promote our professions and issues we care about on a grand scale. This year is no different, and, as the current ASHA president, I enjoy participating in many of the outreach activities.

For this first week of May, ASHA is focusing on the topic of our Noisy Society. This includes publicizing the results of a new ASHA-commissioned survey on attitudes and behaviors toward  hearing, hearing protection and noisy environments of U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

One interesting aspect of the survey results is the astounding consistency across age groups, from millennials to baby boomers on up. The majority of respondents said hearing health is important to their quality of life. More than 80 percent categorized it as extremely or very important, including almost three quarters of 18- to 29-year olds.

Results also revealed significant concern among adults of all ages about the potential effect of loud environments on their hearing. Forty-one percent indicated concern that past exposure to loud leisure settings may have harmed their hearing. And more than half expressed concern about future exposure harming their hearing.

More than one-third said loud noise reduces their enjoyment of activities, such as going to bars and clubs, restaurants or movies. Sixty-nine percent of all participants said noisy environments make engaging in conversation difficult. Somewhat surprising was discovering that younger adults like noisy environments the least: 18- to 29-year-olds reported the highest level of dissatisfaction with the noise in public places. Overall, the results appear to discredit the notion that young people want high noise levels as part of their leisure activities.

Two-thirds of respondents felt society has become noisier. I see that current design trends in restaurants and other venues involve high ceilings, open spaces and hard surfaces, which elevate the noise level. Business owners purposefully create these loud spaces to foster what they consider a “lively” environment.

Professional sports team owners and many fans believe loud stadiums give teams a home-field advantage and enhance the fan experience. But this may be a poor business strategy, as more than a quarter of adults (27 percent) in the ASHA survey decided not to return to a venue because it was too noisy. Few respondents equated noisy environments with fun.

The positive responses to this survey demonstrate a broad appreciation for hearing. Noisy environments seem undesirable to a large portion of the adult population. But noisy surroundings persist, and many of us believe our environment is only getting louder. As someone with unilateral deafness, I’ve experienced the challenge of trying to communicate or enjoy an outing with family and friends in a noisy environment. It can be frustrating and exhausting!

ASHA members play a key role in spreading the word about hearing protection. BHSM provides an ideal time for us all to do so, and ASHA offers many resources to help. You’ll also find support for raising awareness through the Better Hearing and Speech Month social media campaign.

noisy settings infographicOf course, other opportunities exist to promote good hearing health throughout the year. When you do this, you serve the public and advocate for audiologists. Speak up to managers in too-loud establishments and ask them to turn down the volume. Download a smartphone app that monitors noise levels and share them with dining companions and staff at loud restaurants. Advocate for safe sound levels.

This month, ASHA is also highlighting other topics—a different one each week. From May 7 to 13, BHSM efforts focus on autism, so look for resources on early intervention, the role of speech-language pathologists, and tips to  communicate better with friends, neighbors, co-workers or children on the autism spectrum. From May 14 to 20, materials cover stroke-related complications, including communication and swallowing problems, and the treatments speech-language pathologists provide. Finally, during the last week in May, ASHA will spotlight bilingual speech-language development and communication disorders in bilingual speakers.

BHSM is always an exciting time for the professions. I encourage you to be creative and innovative in carrying out activities to celebrate and educate the public on the importance of hearing and speech issues!

Gail Richard, PhD, CCC-SLP, is 2017 ASHA president. pr@asha.org

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