San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

Hearing Loss Environment

Newly installed acoustic paneling in San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple’s (SFVHBT) Activity Hall helps increase activity, participation, and engagement, especially among its aging members. Built in 1962, the Activity Hall first served as the temple’s original Hondo (main hall) before transitioning into a venue space hosting social, cultural, and educational activities.

With its vaulted ceilings and linoleum floors, the hall produced loud and reverberating sound levels. Sometimes these levels would reach 85 decibels (db), a threshold considered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be a noise-induced hearing loss environment.

This environment made casual conversation difficult. In fact, a survey at the temple found that the hall’s loud volume caused some of its members to stop attending activities altogether.

Concerned and frustrated, the temple applied for Keiro funding in hopes of creating a quieter and more welcoming space for its aging members.

A Sensitive Subject

Since the installation of the panels, “it’s been really great” says John Mullins, a member of the temple who was instrumental in drafting the application for Keiro’s Grants Program. He explained that throughout the decades, the temple’s Japanese American and Japanese membership has aged. With over 60% of the temple’s membership age 60 and older, a large portion of its members are beginning to face or are at greater risk of hearing loss.

“It’s a sensitive subject. People don’t want to admit that they have hearing loss,” he explained. “You get into a situation where someone doesn’t seem to be engaging or they’re just limiting their voice because they don’t understand the conversation.” But after installing the panels, John said the improvement was almost instant.

The noise level now averages between 70db to 75db, making it a safer environment.

“We had a luncheon in here after the installation and I had a conversation with a particular member who I knew was hard of hearing and it was like we had a conversation for the first time. It lasted the whole luncheon and there were people all around us. It was really meaningful.”

He further explained how the temple realized that hearing loss was a much larger issue. For its members especially, having the opportunity to hear, experience, and engage with the service is critical.

Reducing Social Isolation

“This relates to social isolation because it starts the way I was just describing,” John explained. “People come into the room and they can’t understand what’s going on. They either stop interacting with others or they sit quietly or leave and eventually they just stop coming. We saw that.”

According to AARP, hearing loss is an epidemic, and one of several factors that contribute to social isolation and loneliness. It’s been linked to increased risk of dementia, obesity, diabetes, strokes and even cancer. Nearly 30% of people in their 50’s suffer from hearing loss and those numbers increase with age with two thirds of Americans over 70 having significant hearing loss.

While hearing loss does come with age, spaces like the Activity Hall at SFVHBT are making it safer and more inclusive for its older members.

John added that the temple is continuing its efforts to improve sound quality in the hall by installing carpet and retrofitting the current Hondo with a new audio system. “There are other issues like mobility and transportation that we’re addressing”, he said, “but for us, this is how we learned that hearing was [a] bigger [issue] than we thought.”