Noise accommodations

UK supermarket starts quiet hour for people with autism

Photo credit: Steve F licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

People with autism are bothered by noise, so the British supermarket chain Morrison’s is implementing a weekly quiet hour to help them shop.

Many other shoppers are bothered by noise, including those of us with tinnitus and hyperacusis, and people with hearing loss. In fact, loud ambient noise makes it difficult if not impossible for people to converse, even those with normal hearing.

We know that retail studies show that loud background music encourages people to spend money, but we think that most people want quiet, and  loud background music drives many adults away from restaurants and stores.

And we know for sure that loud noise causes hearing loss, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease–the scientific evidence is incontrovertible.

If enough shoppers complain to store managers about unwanted and unneeded noise, perhaps stores will become quieter.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

When in doubt, sue—Canadians did and won

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hard to believe that Canadians could be as litigious as we are down here in the U.S., but this Canadian group won their noise suit.

Imagine suing a U.S. federal agency about highway construction noise and actually winning! Of course, it took this Canadian group two decades to win, and in toto they won only $3.5 million. In the end, a typical family will receive about $3,000 to $5,000—that’s enough for a family to buy a single pair of hearing aids–so perhaps the whole family will take turns wearing them?

But what this case suggests is that legal action is a viable strategy—at least in regions where it’s understood that noise is public health problem and that, therefore, citizens are entitled to relief.

Are we there yet in the U.S.?

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Coping with hearing loss and noisy restaurants is not a game

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from CNN discusses a novel strategy to help people with hearing loss understand speech: a game to train the brain to process speech better.

This is a widely known but poorly understood problem–sometimes called the “Speech in Noise problem”–with people with hearing loss, but it can also affect people with normal or adequate hearing as tested by standard hearing tests (“pure tone audiometry”) who nonetheless can have problems understanding speech.

The problem is worse for those with hearing aids, which is probably why up to 40% of people with hearing aids don’t use them–they just don’t help understand speech in everyday situations. As hearing loss blogger Shari Eberts has written, hearing aids just are not like eyeglasses.

Some research supports a central cause for this, i.e., deficiencies in brain processing of auditory signals as people age. Other research puts the problem in the periphery, i.e., the ear. And the research on hidden hearing loss puts the problem in between, in the nerves connecting the ear to the brain. Most likely the explanation involves all three.

Even though the computer game reported in this story may eventually help people who struggle to understand speech, dealing with hearing loss and noisy restaurants isn’t a game.

The real answer isn’t brain training. It’s quieter restaurants, stores, and other public places.

Quieter indoor places will not only help those who already have hearing loss understand speech, they will prevent hearing loss in those still with good hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Yes, please!

Goodbye awkwardness, hello quiet!

Salon offers quiet chair to avoid awkward small talk.  Sonia Haria, The Telegraph, reports that the salon, located in Cardiff, Wales, introduced a ‘quiet chair’ “so clients can get their hair done without feeling the pressure of making small-talk.” The owner of the salon stated that “[s]ome clients worry they aren’t good at chatting, some just don’t want to do it at all and would rather relax with a magazine.”  We understand. This is a brilliant idea. Customers can request the quiet chair when they book their appointment, and if there’s more than one customer who would rather avoid conversation at the same time, “any stylist can be told to keep it quiet.” And then there’s the bit we really like: “Even the music can be turned down at the client’s request.”

It’s a long flight to Cardiff, but a small price to pay for a peaceful haircut.

Link via Hyperacusis Research.

This sounds like clickbait but it isn’t:

Try this one trick to hear people better at parties. And the trick is?  “People in noisy situations should face slightly away from the person they’re listening to and turn one ear towards the speech.”  A new study, funded by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss, finds this technique is a particularly helpful listening tactic for cochlear implant users, and is “compatible with lip-reading, which was unaffected by a modest, 30-degree head orientation.”

Click the link above to learn more about why this technique works and to watch the video at the bottom of the webpage on binaural audio (or how to record sound so it sounds like it does in your head).

 

If this works, could it lead to lower siren volumes?

Stockholm ambulances to trial blocking drivers’ music so sirens can be heard. The Telegraph reports that a new alert system is being trialed in Stockholm, Sweden that “overrides loud music and bypasses sound-proofed car insulation so drivers will never be caught off guard by an approaching emergency vehicle.”  The new system “uses the FM radio signal to jam drivers’ speakers and send a voice alert that an ambulance is approaching.”  The reason for the new system was the realization that drivers often had only seconds to react to a siren when the a better warning time is at least 10 to 15 seconds. The alert will only work on cars that have the radio on, but it’s estimated that it will reach two-thirds of the cars on the road.

If this system works, one would hope that emergency vehicle sirens could be adjusted so that pedestrians and other people nearby could be spared ear-splitting siren volumes in the attempt to alert distracted motorists. It doesn’t hurt to dream.

Link via Quiet Edinburgh.

Now showing at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017:

Orosound’s Tilde Noise Management Earphones

Orosound’s ‘noise-managing’ earphones hush unwanted sounds. While we appreciate tech startups that focus how we can manage noisy environments, we can’t help but to point out the obvious: Instead of developing gadgets that allow people to limit the noise invading their personal soundscape, why not limit the noise at its source? Just a thought.

Until that happens–in our lifetimes, one hopes–we will report on the products and services you can use to keep unwanted sound at bay and control the soundscape of your slice of the world.

Is It Safe to Turn Down the Volume of Hospital Alarms?

New Study Chimes In: “Yes.” If you have ever spent any time in a hospital, whether as a visitor or especially as a patient, you probably wondered how the patients sleep with the constant din caused by monitors, particularly the alarms. The answer, apparently, is “they can’t.” While some sort of alarm is needed to alert staff when a patient is having a crisis, Anesthesiology News reports that “[t]he overabundance and high volume of hospital alarms can have deleterious effects on patients and providers, impairing clinician performance and possibly compromising patient safety (citation omitted).” The good news? The study’s author found that “clinician performance is maintained with alarms that are softer than background noise.”

Coming soon to a hospital near you: A good night’s rest!

 

Time is up for ear-blasting technology,

peaceful washrooms are back.  Do you find the noise produced by electric hand dryers to be jarring or even painful?  You’re not alone.  All electric hand dryers make noise, but some are worse than others, “causing discomfort to all, and unnecessary stress to those with hypersensitivity to noise, hearing problems or conditions such as dementia and autism.”   Fortunately, a quieter alternative may be around the corner.  Quiet Mark announces the launch of its review of hand dryers, stating that it:

[T]ested a broad range of hand dryers and only the quietest, high-performance machines achieved a Quiet Mark award. This universal symbol makes it easier for those in charge of restaurants, bars, leisure centres, shops, libraries, hospitals and public conveniences to consider sound levels when assessing hand dryers for their venues.

Quiet Mark’s testing uses real-life testing environments for accurate result, because “the sound levels of hand dryers in real-life situations have often been underestimated.”  Among other things, Quiet Mark notes that hand dryers are:

[C]ommonly tested in ultra-absorbent acoustic laboratories, rather than in highly reverberant washrooms and toilets, where their loud motor noise can be uncomfortably amplified. They may also be tested without human hands in the airflow, which can add up to 10dB in some cases. The combination of these factors means that the machine can be twice as loud as some test results might show.

You can see Quiet Mark’s review of hand dryers here.