When Dinner Includes A Decibel Reader

Certain members of my family are very hard for me to hear. Part of it is no fault of their own — their voices are in the frequency range where my hearing loss is greatest. But I do often wonder if there isn’t more that they could do to project and enunciate their speech to make it easier for me to hear.

In fact, I think other people often have trouble hearing them too. But when I ask them about it, they say they are speaking at a normal volume and sometimes ask me if maybe the batteries on my hearing aids are getting low. Lovely.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

On one particularly frustrating afternoon, I decided to settle this recurring argument once and for all. I pulled out my handy decibel reader on my smart phone and let science be our guide. This way we would have actual data to add to the discussion.

As my family members spoke to me from across the room, I monitored the volume of their voices. The measurements fluctuated wildly, ranging between 50-70 decibels. Not surprisingly, I could hear the 70 decibel speech much better than the 50 decibel speech.

This span of loudness might not seem very wide, but since decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, it is an extremely large range. The rule of thumb is that for each 10 decibels, sounds are twice as loud. This means that voices at 70 decibels are 4 times louder than those at 50 decibels. You can read more about the science behind this here.

My decibel reader labels 70 decibels as normal conversation, but many other sources label it around 60 decibels, so to be fair, I started pointing out every time my family members’ speech dipped below 60 decibels. Sometimes their speech dipped below that level only for part of a sentence, but it was enough to make the meaning hard for me to understand.

My family was not thrilled with my new trick. They made excuses. “Well, we are across the room so of course it is quiet,” they said. “How accurate is this app anyway?” they wanted to know. I admit the calibration is probably not perfect, but it is fairly accurate, and the act of measuring alone was clearly having an impact on their behavior.

The visual reinforcement of the decibel reader made such an impression, I began placing it in the middle of the table at dinner time. It takes up a little bit of space on the table, but it has helped everyone to stay better focused on speaking in a clear and audible voice. I plan to keep doing this until it becomes unnecessary.

They say it takes 30 days to form a habit. I certainly hope my family’s clearer speaking pattern becomes a lasting one.

Readers, how do you remind your family to speak so you can hear them?

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34 thoughts on “When Dinner Includes A Decibel Reader

  1. Ms. Eberts,
    Which decibel app do you recommend? This may be very helpful for me. Thank you for all that you do to help others.

  2. One thing that worries me in my apartment complex is that I will play my TV so loud it will disturb my neighbors. Thanks to you now I can check. Good information!

      • Sometimes subtitles just leave the person with hearing impairment bewildered. See Facebook #BadSubtitles

      • Captioning is not perfect, especially when the captions are auto generated by computer, but the technology is improving. I find captioning very helpful in most cases. Thanks for sharing your concerns.

  3. I’ve been using Decimal 10 for years….yes, it is very effective.
    Great idea for using with family.
    I will certainly try to use it with my family…that will enable them to know that they are monitored and then they will understand how to modulate their voices.
    Maybe that will help to raise their awareness.

  4. There are a wide range of people at the health club that I attend. One guy talks so softly, others with “normal” hearing move closer to him so I know its not just me. I’ve told him countless times so have gotten to the point that I avoid him. A woman has a medical reason for not speaking loudly. She knows that I struggle to hear but at least makes an effort to speak louder. Yet, several others speak SO LOUD that it’s impossible to understand others in the room. Maybe pulling out my iPhone and showing them their speech levels, will remind the folks that they speak too loud or too soft? I doubt it. Old habits are hard to break. BTW, I use the NIOSH SLM dB app.

  5. That’s a cool idea. I have a decibel reader, but only have used it to measure how noisy an environment is. I’ll have to try that as well. It would be neat if there was a frequency reader just to determine at which frequencies a specific person voice is.

  6. Good for you, Shari! Way to put the proof out there! I admire you and your techy ability to find that app and use it. Thanks for sharing this with us!


  7. Great article with a new take on the use of decibel meters. Thanks for these insights. I recently left my phones decibel meter running and face up on the pew during our new “blended” church service (drums and. Orchestra) with hopes that the deacon standing behind me could easily see the arm swinging continually into the “red zone” while we stood to sing for an interminable amount of time. How long does it take to have too much exposure to super high levels of sound?

  8. Shari,

    What a great idea. I usually have the same problem when my wife and daughter are together with me. They seem to talk lower with each other such that I am left out. Can’t wait to try it.

  9. Great article Shari. I want to echo another reader’s recommendation for the NIOSH SLM decibel app, it’s free, and tested by NIOSH’s hearing loss group for accuracy in their lab.

    For anyone interested in using a decibel meter app, make sure it’s set to A (for A-weighting which mimics the human ear response). The DecibelX app you use Shari, only the Pro version allows you to measure A-weighted decibels. The difference between A and Z measurements can be as high as 10 dB’s.

  10. This is a great blog: my dear wife of 47 years finds it frustrating how often she has to repeat herself– even when I am wearing my hearing aids. I tell her that part of it is the particular range of frequencies in her voice. I find that her voice is much more difficult for me to parse than, say, her sister’s. Of course this leads to interesting discussions. I may get the iPhone app.

    I still think the answer is to greatly improve hearing aid technologies. I am a PhD physicist and computer architect. Based on my background, I believe that the digital technology exists to make a device that can suppress “white noise”, and support fine-grained, multi-channel equalization. Instead of an industry pushing the limits, I get to spend about every 3 or 4 years $5,000 to $6,000 on new hearing aids which are little better than the ones they replace. There is a huge and growing market for hearing correction. Developing hearing devices that truly broke new ground would be rewarded in that market.

    We treat hearing as though it is medically unimportant. contrast the number of Ph.D.-trained optometrists and MD Opthalmologists there are to the number of ENT doctors who truly specialize in hearing. The difference is staggering. Today’s audiologists– by comparison with optometrists– have stone age diagnostic tools. They cannot definitively even tell you on a routine basis exactly what is causing your hearing loss. They cannot with enough accuracy measure your ear’s frequency response in DBs. Their tools to provide sound equalization are improving but not as fast as technology would allow. And, their ability to provide directional response and cancellation of unwanted noise would be laughable if it weren’t so pitiable.

    • I agree, especially on your comment about white noise suppression. This exists in consumer products, so the technology is available. I hope that the development of OTC products will jumpstart innovation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

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