By Dr. Esther Fogel
The fall season heralds Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays as well as family gatherings and large crowds. While the holidays are joyful and a time to look forward to, for people with hearing loss, this time of year can also be stressful and challenging. The most common symptom of hearing loss is difficulty hearing speech in the presence of background noise, and family get-togethers are usually loud and filled with group conversations, clanging dishes, and children running around. For those with hearing loss, this can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. If you or a family member have hearing loss, here are some tips to communicate effectively and enjoy family time during the upcoming holidays.
Choose a Strategic Seat at the Table. Find a seat that allows you to make eye contact with and face as many people as possible, which will enable you to read lips and see facial expressions. If you have a “better side” in regards to hearing, seat yourself so that friends and family members are on that side.
Adjust the Lighting. Make sure that the room is well-lit. While candles or dim lighting are popular for holiday festivities, a dark room may make it more difficult for a person with hearing loss to read lips and follow a conversation. Ensure proper lighting so that you can take advantage of visual and facial cues.
Find a Quiet Corner. If you are having a conversation or trying to catch up with a family member, step away from the crowd and find a quiet place such as the couch, or take an after-dinner walk for a quiet conversation. Stand or sit away from loudspeakers or noisy kitchens.
Turn Down the Volume. Turn down any background music or turn it off completely. People tend to speak louder when there is background music, and this just makes the gathering louder. If possible, try to hold off on washing dishes until after your guests have left or the meal is over. For people with hearing loss, the clatter of dishes or the sound of running water makes it difficult to follow a conversation at the dinner table.
Buddy Up. Find a friend or family member you feel comfortable hanging out with to help you navigate conversations. This partner can help you feel more included in conversations and repeat things that you may have missed.
Take Turns. It is easiest to hear when one person speaks at a time. The most frustrating situation for people with hearing loss is everyone talking at once or someone interrupting a conversation. Try to encourage turn-taking as much as possible.
Talk to Your Host in Advance. Your host will most likely be happy to help but may not understand your needs. Speak to you host ahead of time regarding seating accommodations, lighting, and reducing background noise.
Take Advantage of Technology. If you have hearing aids, make sure to wear them at all times. Speak to your audiologist about additional assistive listening devices which can be helpful at the dinner table or in large crowds, such as a remote microphone, a pocket-talker, or the microphone on your iPhone.
Ask for Help. While it may seem easier to nod and pretend you are following a conversation, you will feel much better if you are honest about your hearing loss. So take advantage of the upcoming holidays and be prepared to communicate with family.
Shanah tovah, and enjoy those family gatherings!
Comprehensive Audiology is located at 261 Broadway in Lynbrook. Appointments can be made by calling 516-387-4000 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.