Hearing loss is always difficult for a family, but the holidays make it particularly hard. Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to involve large gatherings and parties. This creates an atmosphere that makes it very difficult for a person with hearing loss, and it adds stress to their family members.
When you have hearing loss, it is easy to feel isolated and left out in loud situations such as these. A natural reaction is to pull away from interaction and seclude oneself in a quiet corner. However, this behavior is detrimental to the individual with hearing loss and their loved ones. Family members will often begin to feel ignored, and relationships are damaged.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these holiday disasters. For those with hearing loss and their families, making a few changes in how everyone communicates can make the holidays much more enjoyable and bring the family back together.
Talk about it
Don’t be afraid to tell people when you or a loved one has hearing loss. Discuss it with close friends, visiting relative and your children/grandchildren, even if they’re young. These people will be affected by the hearing loss as you gather together for the holidays, so it is good for them to know. Though this subject can be difficult to talk about, all your loved ones will appreciate you telling them. They will need to know about the hearing loss if they are going to learn how to communicate properly.
Attract the listener’s attention
If you are speaking to someone with hearing loss, be sure they are listening before you start talking. If you do not, you will likely have to repeat yourself. Get their attention by saying their name clearly, touching them on the shoulder or getting in their sight.
Face the listener
To help your loved one hear and understand you, begin standing directly in front of him/her when talking and make sure they are looking at you before you begin to speak. Ask family and friends to do the same. Being able to see the lips of the person speaking to them is important for someone with hearing loss.
If you are the one with hearing loss, make sure you face the person speaking, as well. Watch their lips as needed, and don’t be afraid to ask them to face you if they haven’t.
Speak clearly and naturally
It’s not necessary to shout at someone with hearing loss. Loud speech may actually overload their hearing and be painful. Maintain a normal tone of voice but articulate your words. If you speak at a slightly slower rate, you will automatically speak more clearly.
If you have hearing loss and don’t understand the person talking to you, be careful how you tell them. Try to avoid saying “what?” or “can you repeat that?” more than once. Having to repeat something multiple times often leads people to speak more quickly and loudly, which will make it even harder for you. If you ask them to speak slowly instead, they are more likely to speak in a way you can understand.
Restate instead of repeating
If you have to repeat something to your loved one with hearing loss, try saying it a little different. Some words are more difficult to understand than others, so saying a sentence another way may get you understood faster. If you first said, “Will you carve the turkey?” repeat it by saying “Can you please slice the turkey?”
Stand closer to each other when speaking. Your listener will always hear you more clearly if you’re within 6 feet of them, whether they have hearing loss or not. Move closer than this if you’re still having trouble hearing or being heard.
If you have hearing loss and the person speaking to you is too far away, try to move closer.
Proximity is especially important in places with lots of background noises like restaurants and holiday parties.
Be aware of the surroundings
Several aspects of your surroundings to consider when trying to optimize communication are background noise, lighting and visual obstructions.
Background noises can make hearing difficult for everyone but especially for someone with hearing loss. If you’re in a busy area with lots of background noises that make it difficult to hear, try to get away from it. Turn so you’re facing away from the loudest noises or try to find a quiet corner somewhere.
Lighting needs to be good so that the individual with hearing loss can read lips when necessary. For the holidays especially, beware of table settings that block people’s views or can hinder sound from carrying properly.
Limit the number of people talking at once
Someone with hearing loss communicates best with one or two people at a time. Listening becomes much more difficult with four or more people because the listener cannot accurately predict who will speak next so that they can properly refocus their attention.
If you have hearing loss and are at a big holiday meal/get-together, try to focus on the two or three people directly around you. If the group talking around you has too many people for you to understand everyone, try to strike up a separate conversation with someone sitting beside you rather than participate in the conversation at large.
Hearing loss can be tiring. When talking with your hearing impaired listener remember that it’s hard work to be attentive all day long. Anything you can do to help will be a welcome gift. Try to be understanding, especially when your loved one seems tired or doesn’t want to talk. Don’t wear them out trying to keep up conversations when they don’t have the physical or mental energy to keep up with you.
If you have hearing loss, try to remember that it is difficult for your friends and families to understand what you’re going through. It can be frustrating to constantly have to work to make yourself heard. Be patient with them when they are failing to communicate properly. Try to suggest something they can do to make themselves hear better such as speaker slower, enunciating more clearly or leaning in a little closer to talk.
Whether you’re struggling to hear or to be heard, never just say, “never mind” and cut the conversation off. This is very rude to the person you are trying to communicate with and can damage your relationship when it occurs too often.
Talk with an audiologist
See an audiologist about treatments for hearing loss and ask about other ways to improve communication with your family while you are there. Your audiologist may have some great tips and resources to help you all learn how to face hearing loss together.
Improving communication takes everyone doing his or her part, and it takes constant awareness. Hearing loss is difficult for everyone involved, but with the appropriate steps, you can make things easier for you and your loved one with hearing loss this holiday season.