Angie Aspinall: To boldly go… for the last time

Posted on May 31, 2013

Last week, I went to the cinema as my husband wanted to see the new Star Trek film. What a mistake that turned out to be.

Not that there was anything wrong with the film – the storyline, acting and special effects were all fine – the problem for me was the massive fluctuation in volume between the dialogue and, well, ‘everything else’.

I have bi CROS hearing aids which means I have a microphone above my dead ear which sends a Bluetooth signal to the aid in my other ear. The aids have several programs and I have a remote control to switch between them. I have recently had some fine tuning of the aids and they’re not quite ‘there’ yet so, it was with some trepidation that I entered the cinema.

I have only been to the cinema once since suffering sudden profound deafness in what was formerly my ‘good ear’ and that was before I had my CROS aids. On that visit, the dialogue in the movie was too quiet and I couldn’t follow what was going on.

Last week, however, the experience was quite different. The sound shot up and down at an alarming rate, from explosions to dialogue and back again, continuously throughout the film. I’m guessing the difference was a good 20-25dB which, given I already have around 65dB of amplification, meant the explosions were deafening.

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 15.46.12

At one point, I feared the noise might literally be deafening as my remote control didn’t react quickly enough to one explosion, causing me to rip the hearing aid out of my ear as quickly as possible. I had a moment’s panic at the possibility of my hearing being potentially damaged so, I watched most of the rest of the film on the ‘comfort in noise’ setting and tried to lipread the dialogue.

Luckily, the film was quite predictable so, it didn’t really matter if I missed the odd word or some nuance in the dialogue – I was still able to follow the plot.

As an experience though, the trip to the cinema was wholly upsetting. By the end of it, my tinnitus was raging and I was angry at myself for not foreseeing the problem. I should have realised that just controlling the volume on my hearing aids would not be enough. (At home, I am constantly altering the volume on the television as well as the settings on my hearing aids to find a happy medium between dialogue and incidental music or dialogue and background noise.)

I came out of the cinema thankful I hadn’t gone to see the film in 3D: the sound was such an assault to the senses and overwhelming enough without me having to contends with things seemingly ‘popping out’ of the screen at me. I also came out wishing I hadn’t gone and vowing not to return.

Yes, I could go and see a subtitled film if I could find anyone to go with me and if they were shown at an accessible time (e.g. in the evening and not in the daytime) but, this wouldn’t stop the background sounds such as explosions from being overly loud.

I do wish film companies would offer ‘hearing aid-friendly’ soundtracks to their films in the same way that films are dubbed into a foreign language so that they could be watched at home without this constant recourse to the volume buttons on the remote control.

The same goes for television shows really and especially the difference in volume between programmes and adverts on commercial TV stations.

I also know lots of other people (who don’t use hearing aids) who also complain of these sound differences between dialogue (which is important and yet often too quiet) and background sounds (which are unimportant in terms of the viewers’ understanding of the story but often are overly loud). Can any TV or film people give us an explanation of why this is so and if it could be changed?

On reflection, there is one film I will return to the cinema for and that’s Before Midnight – the final film in the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset trilogy. These gentle films are dialogue focused and so I know I won’t have a similar experience with the fluctuating volume. Also, I am simply dying to find out what has happened to Jesse and Celine!

Angie is a part-time journalistfood and travel writerphotographer and co-founder of Twitter’s top weekly business networking event, #Yorkshirehour. She is also the new External Relationships Manager at Hearing Link. She is a chicken-keeper, gardener and ‘foodie’ living in glorious Yorkshire with her husband, Richard and their precious Westie, Tilly. Angie started going progressivley deaf in one ear at the age of 30 and then suffered total sudden onset hearing loss in her ‘good’ ear in 2011. You can check out her websiteblogtwitter account,Facebook and Linked In.

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