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If it was difficult for you and your guests to hear during Thanksgiving dinner, try these tips to help everyone hear better at other holiday celebrations!
By Susan L Fenrich, BC-HIS*
*Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences
Over half of all gatherings this holiday season, will have at least one person with hearing loss in attendance. Thirty percent of all holiday meals will have hearing aid users sitting at a dinner table. For those that have hearing difficulties family gatherings can be very frustrating. Some people tend to isolate themselves and even become depressed. If you are the host or hostess of a future holiday event there are several things that can be done to make the listening situation significantly better.
- Mute the TV. If you are trying to carry on a conversation while watching the game—you might want to mute the TV while you converse. Having more than one thing vying for one’s attention makes it much more difficult to hear and understand what is being said.
- Carefully plan where people sit. You, you may want to have a special table off to the side or in another room, just for children. It makes them feel special, and it also keeps the higher pitched voices away from everyone. This will make it is easier to carry on a conversation. For a long table full of people, place a person with hearing loss at one end of the table, so he/she can concentrate on conversation with those nearby. Being in the middle of the group can be quite frustrating when several conversations are going on at the same time. Seat those with hearing loss further away from the kitchen so the clanging dishes and activity do not interfere with conversation.
- Take turns talking and do not interrupt each other. This is especially important when talking in groups.
- Keep the line of sight open to everyone. It is so much easier to carry on a conversation when you can see the person who you are talking too. Even if they don’t realize it, those with hearing loss often rely on lip reading to successfully carry on a conversation. Avoid tall table decorations which could make it difficult to see each other’s faces. Using round tables can also make it easier to see each other while talking. The closer you are to the person who is speaking the easier it is to understand. Visual cues like facial expressions and lip movements help listeners understand your words. Good lighting makes it easier for the listener to see your face and read your lips. Sound waves do not travel around corners and through walls. Look at the people you are talking to and make sure you have their attention.
- Turn down the volume. Most people, with and without hearing loss have difficulty hearing speech in noise. As we get older, it gets even more difficult to separate speech from surrounding sounds. Most of all holiday gatherings have sports, music, or both playing in the background! To make is easier for Grandma and Grandpa, try to keep the noise level to a minimum. If you are playing your favorite Christmas tunes, set the volume at a lower level. You may want to turn them off completely while eating, so people can hear each other better. Often the men watch a football game, while the women talk. Make sure the men are in another room with the television at a lower level of volume. If Grandpa can’t hear, it might be good idea to have a TV listening device for him to use. Turning the TV off during mealtime might be best, if that is not agreeable, mute the volume and put on closed captioning.
- Speak naturally but clearly. If you are leading the dinner prayer and your head is bowed speak a little louder. So often people pray with a softer voice in reverence to God, making it difficult for those with normal hearing to hear the prayer. You may want to consider not bowing your head, so everyone can hear you better. Do not talk too fast. Try to enunciate your words more clearly.
- Try not to talk while chewing. Talking with your mouth full makes it harder to understand what you are saying. This can be hard when so much conversation is going on during dinner—or when you get asked a question just after you have taken a big bite of pie. Keep in mind that those who where hearing aids are often distracted by the sound of their own chewing. Grandpa may not quite hear you if he just took a bite of that same pie.
- Don’t talk so fast! When we haven’t seen our family or friends for a long time it is easy to get excited. When we do, we tend to talk a mile a minute. For those with hearing loss and hearing aids it is important to talk slow and deliberate. As we age we not only lose our hearing, but our reaction time gets slower too, making it even more difficult to hear everything that is being said. Even if we hear the words we may not be able to understand them.
- Be Patient. Whether Grandma or Grandpa wear hearing aids or not, if they have a hearing loss, it will be more difficult for them to hear when everyone is over for dinner. Don’t get irritated—take the time to repeat and slow down the conversation a bit.
- If you have a hearing loss, get hearing help today! Just as it is no fun not to be able to hear; it is no fun for friends and family to have to raise their voices to talk to you. No one should go without hearing help if they need it. There are hearing aids available for every hearing loss, lifestyle, and budget. And if there is “no budget” there is help for that too! For those with hearing aids, you may find significant improvement with an upgrade or with other assistive listening devices, which work with your current hearing aids, to bring the speech signal directly into your ears.