Thanksgiving is a time to join with family and friends to express gratitude for the many joys in our lives. For people with hearing loss, it can also often be fraught with anxiety. Will we be able to follow the dinner conversation and partake in the merriment? Will we be exhausted from all the listening fatigue? Will we remain a relevant and important part of the family dynamic?
My family usually heads out of town for Thanksgiving, but this year we are hosting! Sleeping all eight of us in a Manhattan apartment will make for tight quarters, but I am looking forward to the challenge. I have ceded control of the cooking to my mother-in-law, so my focus will be on setting the table, arranging the seating, and creating the perfect hearing friendly atmosphere — a great role for someone with hearing loss.
Setting A Hearing Friendly Table for Thanksgiving
This year I am in control, so implementing a hearing friendly Thanksgiving table will be easier. If you are a guest somewhere else, reach out to your host at least a week before the event to see if any of my site specific suggestions can be implemented in their home. Most people will try to be as hospitable as possible if you approach them in advance with reasonable and specific requests.
1. Keep the noise down and the lights up. Background noise makes it hard to follow conversation for people with hearing loss. Since it is my house, it will be easy for me to avoid playing music, but if you are dining elsewhere, don’t be shy about asking for the music to be lowered for dinnertime. Adequate light is needed for lipreading, so no overly dim lighting for our festivities.
2. Place myself in the center of the table. This will allow me to be physically closest to as many people as possible. I will seat those hardest for me to hear directly across from me to make lipreading easier.
3. Wear my hearing aids. The buzz of conversation can be loud, but I will still likely do better if I wear my hearing aids. At a large party, other technologies like Roger pens or speech to text apps like Live Transcribe can also be helpful.
4. Take breaks. Even with all my planning, listening fatigue is likely to set in at some point. Escaping the din for a few moments as needed will help rest my brain and let me regroup for more listening at a later time.
5. Use visual cues. If you are having trouble hearing, cupping your hand behind your ear is a great way to get the speaker to speak louder without interrupting the flow of the conversation.
6. Practice self-care. The holidays can be exhausting for everyone so keeping healthy and maintaining your self-care regimen is critical. For me, this means finding time each day for yoga or meditation. For others it might be taking a warm bath, or enjoying a cup of coffee in much needed silence.
7. Have reasonable expectations. Hearing a group conversation at a large table is almost impossible for many people with hearing loss. Focus on conversing with those seated next to you and talk with others seated farther away at a later time.
8. Smile and enjoy. Despite the challenges of a group dinner, try to approach the event with optimism and joy. Focus on what you are grateful for from the past year. Try to enjoy the special time with family and friends, even if you don’t catch every word they are saying.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers! I am grateful for your ideas, encouragement and all your comments and discussion on my weekly blog posts. I am so proud of the warm and engaging community we have created together.
Readers, what hearing friendly strategies do you use at a large family dinners?