The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and reconnecting, but if you have hearing loss, it can also be incredibly stressful. Holiday parties, social gatherings and family get-togethers can be frustrating and uncomfortable as you struggle to catch the joke and follow the conversation, especially when background noise interferes with your hearing aid. The best advice? Plan. Here are some tips to help you enjoy your time with the people you love.
Do some advance work. Most hosts are happy to oblige if you talk to them ahead of time about your needs, says Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate who blogs at www.livingwithhearingloss.com. Could you be seated at a specific spot at the table? Can the kids’ table be in a separate room? Would your host mind turning down the holiday tunes — or, preferably, turning them off at some point? If you’re meeting a group at a restaurant, call in advance to see if the manager can lower the volume of the background music and put your party in a quiet corner, preferably at a booth or round table.
Reserve a strategic spot at the table. For a sit-down dinner, arrive early to scope out the best seat — then claim it with a coat or bag. Look for a spot in the middle of the table (so you can see everyone) and away from the kitchen, says Katherine Bouton, author of Shouting Won’t Help, a memoir about coping with adult-onset hearing loss. Putting your back to the wall can help filter out background noise.
Get a boost from technology. Even if you have a hearing aid, an assistive listening device can be extremely helpful in a loud environment, Bouton says. For under $150, you can get a box-shaped Williams Pocket Talker (Amazon, $139). To use it, you wear earbuds or a headset and place the microphone near the person or people you want to hear. Another option: Convert your iPhone into an amplifier by using a detachable microphone, headphones (without a mic) and a hearing app like Petralax or i-Hear.
Make a beeline for the couch. During a gathering, avoid the kitchen, food area and bar, which tend to be crowded and loud. Instead, invite someone to sit on a sofa with you to chat. “Not only will the couch provide a little acoustic baffle,” Bouton says, “but the noise will be above you, and less intrusive.”
Take an after-dinner walk. Don’t be shy about inviting a favorite friend or relative outside to continue a conversation. “Noise levels are often much lower outside than inside with all the hard surfaces and other noise makers,” Eberts says. “I often will take a walk with someone to enjoy some quiet conversation.” Offering to drive or planning to ride with someone to an event is another easy way to ensure you’ll have some quiet one-on-one time with someone you care about.
Take turns sharing “highs” and “lows.” At the dinner table, it’s easier to hear if people talk one at a time. One way to encourage turn-taking is to ask everyone to share their high and low moment from the day. Or, since it’s close to the New Year, you could each share your favorite 2017 memory or your 2018 goals. (If you have a listening device, the microphone can be passed around.)
Use a classic visual cue. Instead of interrupting the flow of conversation, let others know you’re having trouble hearing by holding a cupped hand behind your ear. Not only will it send a silent signal for someone to speak up, it will also help direct sound into your ear.
Don’t bluff. It’s oh so tempting to nod along and pretend you can hear what’s going on. But you will feel much less awkward — and your interactions will be more meaningful — if you are honest about your hearing loss, says Eberts. “It can be hard to keep it all in perspective during the holidays when you feel like you are missing out, but try to laugh a little and be grateful for the wonderful friends and family around you,” she says. “You may not hear every word they say, but you can partake in all of the good feelings nonetheless.”