How to Handle the Holidays When You Have a Hearing Loss

My post How to Tackle Thanksgiving Dinner When You Have a Hearing Loss received so many helpful tips in the comments, I decided to incorporate them into a new post that focuses on the holidays more generally. Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas! There were so many great ones. I wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season!

The holidays are a great time of year, filled with family dinners and celebrations, gatherings with friends, holiday parties, and lots of socializing. I love getting dressed up, enjoying the decorations and participating in the general feeling of happiness that comes along with the season. But if I’m not careful, all the socializing and holiday hubbub can become exhausting and overwhelming. I want to be a part of the fun, but the concentration required to hear can be taxing, particularly at holiday parties held in noisy restaurants or similar venues.

But, let’s NOT let that put a damper on the holiday season! I hope these tips will help you approach the holiday season with more joy and less fear. Please let me know your suggestions in the comments.

Tips to Survive and Thrive at Holiday Gatherings

  1. Position yourself in a good spot: For me, it is very helpful if I have a wall behind me to block the background noise. If it is a seated meal, I try to sit near the middle of the table, which gives me a better shot at hearing more conversation. If it is a cocktail party, I scope out a quieter area of the room away from the music and high traffic areas like the buffet or bar area and try to spend time there.  If the party is in multiple rooms, I head to the quieter room. You can invite some friends to come with you. I bet they will enjoy the lower volume too.
  2. Avoid background noise when possible: If I am hosting, I always keep background music to a minimum. Other hosts may like to play music more loudly. Try asking your host to lower the volume a bit or to adjust the volume in different parts of the room or venue.  I always ask restaurants to turn down the volume of the music too!
  3. Converse with those next to you: At a seated dinner, don’t try to participate in conversations across large distances. If you would like to talk with someone, move closer to him, or ask that you continue the conversation when you have a chance to be closer together. If it is a party with multiple rooms, you can ask someone to join you in a quieter spot.
  4. Wear your hearing aids: Many of us hate to wear our hearing aids, but they really can help.  Experiment with a couple of different settings to find what is optimal.  You can even practice at home if you don’t want to spend time experimenting at the event. It may take some time getting used to the new setting, but the investment of that time will be worth it.
  5. Try other technologies: There are many new technologies now available that can help you hear in a group setting including personal FM systems or other one to one communication devices. Some of my friends swear by these.
  6. Have reasonable expectations:  You probably won’t hear everything that everyone says, but that is ok. Enjoy talking to the people near you, then seek out others to talk with during other parts of the party.
  7. Take a break: Don’t be shy about taking a break from the action for a few minutes to give your ears and brain a rest. Head to the restroom, or find a quiet spot in another room.  Or go stand outside for a few minutes.  It really helps me to clear my head and build up some energy for another round of socializing.
  8. Don’t fake it: It is very tempting to just nod along and pretend that you hear what others are saying or laugh just because others are laughing. But it can be dangerous, particularly if someone is asking you a question.  Be brave and be honest with others if you are having trouble hearing. It will make your interactions more memorable on both sides.
  9. Give visual clues to indicate if you are having trouble hearing: If you are having trouble hearing, you can cup your ear with your hand to indicate to the speaker to speak louder without interrupting the flow of the conversation.  I have seen this in action and it is very effective.
  10. Bring your sense of humor: It can be hard to keep it all in perspective during the holidays when you feel like you are missing out on the fun, but try to laugh a little and be grateful for the wonderful friends and family around you.  You may not hear every word they say, but you can partake in all of the good feelings nonetheless. Try to enjoy the moment.

Readers, what tips do you have for enjoying the holidays when you have a hearing loss?

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Book: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

3 thoughts on “How to Handle the Holidays When You Have a Hearing Loss

  1. Very good, informative read!

    Added suggestions are:

    •KNOWING A FEW SIMPLE SOGNS OF ASL; I know some ASL and have taught my family members specific signs as to not interrupt anyone talking and that way we can communicate across a room without using our voices. Many signs can be found at your local library using a simple ASL book or video, there are some tutorials on YouTube (but be mindful of the ones you use), and lastly there are many members of our very own communities that maybe deaf, hard-of-hearing or even ASL Interpreters. The DEAF community is close-knit so many times it’s best to approach them through a mutual connection. Learning just a few basic signs like bathroom/toilet, outside/inside, too loud/ not loud enough, more, and so forth can be great tools for just a few simple needs. I always suggest to base it off of what top 5 signs would be beneficial to you in a very loud, busy environment that you could easily convey across a room to other friends and family you’d like to share this form of communication with in these type of festive atmospheres. Here’s a hint: you don’t necessarily need to know how ASL sentence structure works. For the sign for bathroom/toilet, place your thumb between your forefinger and middle finger (this is a ‘T’ in ASL), then wave your ‘T’ back and forth. That’s it! Super simple! Who knows, maybe you could start a new type of get together by learning ASL together!

    •Another great tool is learning how to lip read. If truly not that hard, and it’s not fool proof, but oftentimes many people focus on a spot on someone’s face as they’ talking. The focusing on their mouth. Depending on how fast you pick it up, you’ll start seeing the shapes the mouth makes when forming certain spoken words. Many people that are deaf can lip read because they see the shapes of the mouth. Now for some the letters that phonetically shapes similarly can be a little harder to decipher, but again it just takes time and practice, and you can always ask them to repeat the word or speak up. Never take anyone laughing at what you thought they said personally. I have laughed right along with them on many different occasions. Now if I had been paying better attention I probably could have made a difference in some situations had I maintained focus on their mouth. But life is life, and we might hear an odd sound or something happens that diverts our attention away. In any case, just find the humor and treat it like an ad-lib full-in-the-blank. Many of those are hilarious and almost never relate to the implied subject matter.

    I hope you all open your minds to different “modes” of communication. It’s a great way to live freely in both the Hearing and DEAF Worlds!

    Happy Holidays!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing these suggestions. Happy holidays to you!

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