Help family members with hearing loss during the holidays

The holidays are a time when untreated hearing loss becomes particularly noticeable. Hearing loss generally happens gradually, but if you noticed your uncle asked "What did you say?" a few too many times last year during the holidays, this year you might notice him sitting quietly because his hearing loss has become more severe. Here are some tips to deal with family members' untreated hearing loss and to make adjustments for people with any level of hearing loss during the holidays:

Addressing hearing loss
hearing loss, family gatheringsBecause holiday gatherings are generally filled with loud conversation, music and laughter, it will be more difficult for family members to hide their hearing loss. While it's important to accommodate your loved ones, untreated hearing loss can be dangerous. If you feel someone you love has hearing loss, it's important to find a hearing healthcare provider in their area.

If during the family dinner you notice that your beloved cousin seems to have some degree of hearing loss, it's best not to bring this potentially touchy subject up right away. Instead, do your best to speak clearly and use some of the tips outlined below to make her comfortable and help facilitate good communication.

After the holidays, you can call her or talk to her privately in a casual way about your concerns about her hearing loss. Recruit another family member to do this, or talk with family members closer to your cousin to see if someone has already helped her address the issue. 

Accommodations at home
Whether your family member has untreated hearing loss, primarily lip reads or uses hearing aids or other assistive listening devices, here are some tips to make your holiday gatherings more accessible to those with hearing loss:

  • Eliminate all background noise. Turn of the TVs and music, and if you want to have a one-on-one conversation, head into a quiet room - voices in the background can be pretty distracting.
  • Seat family members around a round table, and make sure the person with hearing loss is not facing a window - its glare can make lipreading hard to do.
  • If it's OK with your family member, let everyone know what they can do to make it easier on her or him, such as by not talking over each other at dinner.
  • Before you begin speaking, get your family member's attention first. Don't chew gum or cover your mouth because they can make lipreading difficult.
  • During dinner, put away the china and opt for plates and dishes made from plastic composite materials instead. Not only are these environmentally friendly, but the clinking of china is high-pitched and can interfere with hearing conversations.
  • If children are talking to a family member with hearing loss, have them be no more than five feet away from the family member with hearing loss because children's high-pitched voices can be difficult to hear.
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