Answer me this: in one house, why do three TVs have to be on at the same time? On the same station. With the sound on. Loudly.
Right now, in our house, the answer would be that the race is on to the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs. My stepson plays for one of the teams, and, at this point, every game is important. So it’s crucial, you see, that no matter where they are in the house, my husband and son have instant access to either the game or breaking sports news. Otherwise they panic. Yes, they could park their respective butts and watch the game all the way through, but we are a fluid family, constantly moving or shifting – to get a drink, check on things, use the facilities, do something during commercials.
And because of this, we also engage in multi-floor conversations that are supposed to be taboo in a family living with hearing loss.
Me: (standing up) Whhaaa-aat?
After that incident, which was followed by a half hour of the Silent Treatment, we bought a set of portable phones so we can connect via intercom from strategic points in the house. This would be a great system except for two things. One – we forget to use the intercom. Two – we tend to walk around during phone calls. Then when we finish, we put the phone down, wherever we are. So the next time we need it, the phone is not where it’s supposed to be. It eventually turns up on a window sill or in the bathroom.
TV is just one source of noise in the modern house. Last fall, before this deep freeze of a winter, I was vacuuming up cat litter. Because I rarely vacuum and only for a few minutes at a time, I don’t bother to replace my hearing aids with earplugs. But on that day, I should have made the effort. The vacuum noise competed for the title of Loudest Sound in the Neighborhood with a leaf blower, a television or two, construction in the lot behind us, and the guy cutting the grass next door. If my son were home, there would also have been comedy videos blaring from his iPad and his howls of laughter (which, to a mom, isn’t really noise).
Noise can have a long-term toxic effect on our hearing, and it also reduces the ability to perceive dangerous and important sounds. What if, in the middle of all this noise, I missed one of the following?
- Smoke or CO2 alarm
- The battery of the above alarms calling out change me, change me!· Someone knocking or ringing at the front door
- The little cat crying when the big cat sits on top of her
- Dryer buzzer saying we’re done, come fold us or we’ll be wrinkled forever!
- Furnace going off when it’s not supposed to
- Footsteps on the stairs
- Stove timer saying your eggs are done right NOW!
- Phone ringing
- Cellphone buzzing (unless it’s in the pocket of something you’re wearing)
- Speech coming from another room, another floor, through walls
Even in a quiet house, it’s difficult to hear or locate a sound. If I’m focused on writing or reading, my brain might not pick up a ping-ping-pinging coming from somewhere. As any parent will tell you, when a child is engrossed in a TV show, a cannon could go off and the kid won’t even twitch.
People with hearing loss need peace of mind about safety in their house. They need to communicate easily and be alerted through visual or auditory means to important sounds. Here are some ideas:
- Reduce competing sources of noise in the house
- Using closed captioning may reduce the need for high TV volume
- Set communication ground rules. Conversations, when possible, should be face to face. The person initiating a conversation must go to the other person before starting to talk. (And good luck with that!)
- Use visual alarms. Flashing lights signify the doorbell, someone knocking, motion outside the house, a phone ringing, a baby crying and the presence of fire, smoke or carbon monoxide. Ensure that all alarms are working properly.
- Phones should have extra loud ringers and/or flashing lights. Portable phones can also be used as intercoms.
- Develop an emergency preparedness plan. Know who and how to call for help in an emergency. Have a backup kit of items essential for communication – hearing aid/CI batteries, flashlight, etc.
- And my personal favorite – get someone else to do the vacuuming.
Turn down the noise and turn up the safety.