An estimated 5 million Americans are in book clubs, according to the New York Times, some of them joining more than one. I know people in book clubs for couples, for mothers and daughters, for women only and for men only, as well as history book clubs, biography book clubs, you name it.
From being in book clubs myself, I've learned that they can pose a difficulty for those with hearing loss. Even with hearing aids or a cochlear implant, it may be difficult to understand all that is being said, especially if several people speak at once. But there are strategies and tools that can help you participate fully.
- Pick the right seat. One that's near the center of the group is best. And don't forget to remind people of your hearing loss, and ask them to speak one at a time. Remind them when they forget.
- Establish a group leader. In my book club, that person designates herself the "conversation monitor." Her role is to make sure that people speak one at a time, that no one dominates the conversation and that the group doesn't roam too far off topic.
- Choose your own personal interpreter. You want to choose someone who can help you when you don't hear something. Having a pen and paper available is useful: You may write, "She did what?" and your interpreter can write back, "She married him." You may have been pretty sure you'd heard "She buried him," but knew it didn't make sense.
- Use a talking stick. A hearing friend told me that in her book club, made up of hearing people, only the person holding "the talking stick" is allowed to speak. This keeps interruption to a minimum. Assistive listening technology also can serve as a talking stick and double as a microphone just for you. An FM transmitter can be passed around, or a Roger transmitter. Only the speaker with the transmitter can talk, and then when that person is done, it is passed to the next speaker. You wear the receiver and hear everything more clearly.
There also soon will be a new app, called Ava, that makes use of voice-to-text software to help those with hearing problems follow a conversation. Some friends and I were beta testers and used it successfully with four people, although it can be used for a group of six to eight. The app assigns each person a color, and each time they speak, their color-coded words plus their photo or the first initial of their name show up on every participant's phone. The app can be restarted with a whole new group the next time you want to use it.
It's the most promising voice-to-text system I've seen, although the app's founder says it's still several months away from being on the market.
There's a reason so many Americans belong to book clubs. They're fun, educational, and a great way to socialize and do something constructive at the same time. Just because you have hearing loss shouldn't deter you from joining in.
(Video) There's Something I Want You To Hear: A chat over the phone. Answers to questions. An important conversation. These are things that should never be missed. Up to 40 percent of people age 50-plus have some hearing loss — and much of the time it is left untreated.