Designing for Acoustics, Hearing and Aging

by Samantha McAskill, ASID

Among seniors in the

United States, hearing loss is the third most prevalent, but treatable, disabling condition, behind arthritis and hypertension.  It has been found that nearly 32 million Americans (10 percent of the total population) now indicate they have a hearing loss.  The greatest increase is among baby boomers, due to noise exposure, and among those who are age 75 and older, due to aging. 


Hearing problems can make you feel anxious, upset and left out.  It’s easy to withdraw from people when you can’t follow what is being said at the dinner table or in a restaurant.  Friends and family may think you’re confused, uncaring, or difficult when you’re really having trouble hearing. 


There are also health and safety issues associated with the constant exposure to loud noise for the population in general.  We run the risk of increased high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers and headaches.  Too much noise at night significantly contributes to sleep disorders.  Hearing problems can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms.


Although hearing aids alone will not meet the needs of older adults with hearing acuity issues, as interior designers, we can help by consciously considering design elements within the interior environment that will assist everyone in maintaining quality of life as we age.  Suggestions include:


  • Use sound absorbing finishes like carpet, fabrics on furniture and draperies.

  • Avoid overly high ceilings in areas such as dining rooms and other public areas where background noise is difficult to control.


  • Plan a home’s layout to separate noisy activities from quiet activities.
  • Remove or reduce background noise from sources such as music, mechanical sounds and noisy air conditioning.
  • Select quieter appliances.
  • Don’t combine the switch for the light and the exhaust fan in bathrooms.  Use a timer switch for the fan so that it will shut off after the resident leaves the room.


  • Provide doorbell chimes in more than one location, i.e., walk-in closets, family rooms and on each level of the home.


  • Install a flashing light to let the resident know someone is at their door or calling on the phone.
  • Install a motion sensor so the resident will know when someone is approaching a front or back door, which will activate the door chime or flashing light.
  • Arrange seating in small groups and in sufficient lighting so that everyone can see each other.  Many individuals with hearing acuity issues read lips in addition to using their hearing aid.  


  • Consider the use of assistive/adaptive devices such as telephone amplifiers and TV and radio listening systems.

Resources used in writing this article include:

Hearing Loss Web - dedicated to people who have hearing loss, but are not members of the traditional deaf community. This includes people who consider themselves to be hearing impaired, hard of hearing, late deafened and oral deaf. - provides easy-to-read, in-depth, authoritative medical information for consumers


Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Aging Network Professionals Senior Series Fact Sheets: "Have You Heard?: Hearing Loss and Older Adults" ( 

Center of Design for an Aging Society - works to identify solutions which help individuals maximize their abilities as they age

Resources for more information:

American Academy of Audiology

11730 Plaza America Drive, Suite 300
Reston, VA20190

1-800-222-2336 (toll-free)

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD20850-3289

1-800-638-8255 (toll-free)
1-301-296-5650 (TTY)

American Tinnitus Association

P.O. Box 5
Portland, OR97207-0005

1-800-634-8978 (toll-free)

Hearing Loss Association of America

7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD20814

1-301-657-2249 (TTY)

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse

1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD20892-3456

1-800-241-1044 (toll-free)
1-800-241-1055 (TTY/toll-free)

National Library of Medicine
Medline Plus

Other resources on hearing loss or ability:


AARP at (keyword "hearing")


Alexander Graham Bell Assn. for the Deaf,


Association of Late Deafened Adults,


The Better Hearing Institute, BHI,  (for statistics)


Harvey, Michael, Ph.D., Odyssey of Hearing Loss, 1998, Dawn Sign Press


Hearing Health Magazine,


Hearing Loss Association of America (formerly Self Help for Hard of Hearing people),


League for the Hard of Hearing,


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders,


Waggoner, Laine, Hearing loss articles on web site at

For more information on health and aging, contact:

National Institute on AgingInformationCenter

P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD20898-8057

1-800-222-4225 (TTY/toll-free)