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How to Handle Family Gatherings with Hearing Loss

All kidding aside, if you think Uncle Ted isn't listening to you as you regale the family about your latest promotion during the holiday get together, you may be on to something. The holiday season is often the first time family notice someone is having trouble hearing.

One out of ten Americans has some form of hearing loss. The odds grow to one in three for Americans over the age of 65.

family gatherings, hearing loss, hearing loss protectionHearing health experts believe hearing loss is also responsible for a myriad of mental health-related issues such as depression, anxiety and anger. The problem escalates during the holidays when hearing impaired family members must choose between the frustration of not being able to understand the conversation or not participating in the celebration at all.

The key to having a successful gathering with a hearing-impaired relative is a little advanced planning.  First, it's important to recognize when a loved one may be having difficulty hearing. Signs include:

  • Keeping the volume up louder than normal on the television and/or radio.
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
  • Having trouble understanding women and children when they speak.
  • Having difficulty hearing in noisy environments, such as restaurants and shopping malls.
  • Contributing inappropriately to the conversation or answering questions incorrectly.

Once you recognize a family member is having difficulty, create an environment that allows for inclusion. For example:

  • Make sure your hearing-impaired family member is paying attention to you before you begin to speak.
  • Speak face-to-face at a regular tone and even pace.
  • Keep your hands away from your face and don't talk while you're eating or chewing gum. Some hearing-impaired individuals rely on lip reading to follow the conversation.
  • If you are asked to repeat yourself several times, try to rephrase your comments. Some sounds may be easier to understand than others.
  • If you're dining out during the holidays, try to choose a quiet restaurant with good acoustics.
  • If you're eating at home, consider using paper plates and plastic eating utensils instead of china and flatware to cut down on the amount of background noise while the family is gathered at the table.

While it might be tempting to call attention to loss of hearing while you're all together, a holiday gathering isn't the time to stage an intervention. Opt to keep the mood light and all members of the family engaged in the conversation as much as possible. When the time is right, suggest your loved one have a hearing evaluation and become educated about the latest hearing aid technology.

Many instruments are virtually invisible and have features such as directional microphones and background noise reduction to help with speech understanding -- which just might help Uncle Ted be able to appreciate a lot more in life than the holiday season.

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