The holidays are 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?
How exhausted will we be from all the listening fatigue?
Will we remain a relevant and important part of the family dynamic?
Setting a hearing loss friendly dinner table can help. See my tips below. Please share yours in the comments.
Setting A Hearing Friendly Holiday Dinner Table
Small changes in the set-up of a space can make it much easier for people with hearing loss to stay engaged. If you are hosting, many of these tips will be easier to implement. If you are visiting friends or family reach out to them with these suggestions several weeks ahead of time so they can plan accordingly. When we assert our communication needs, we stand a much better chance of enjoying the event.
1. Keep the noise down and the lights up
Background noise makes it hard to follow conversation for people with hearing loss. If it is your house, 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 speechreading, so avoiding overly dim lighting is best.
2. Sit in the center of the table
This allows us to be physically close to as many people as possible. If you can control the seating, place those that are hardest for you to hear directly across from you to make lipreading easier. Try to sit with your back to a wall to eliminate unwanted background noise from behind.
3. Use your technology tools
The buzz of conversation can be loud, but I will still do better if I wear my hearing aids. At a large party, other technologies like remote mics or speech-to-text apps can also be helpful.
4. Take breaks
Despite your best efforts, listening fatigue is likely to set in at some point. Escaping the din for a few moments when needed will help rest your brain and let you regroup for more listening at a later time. Try mindful breathing to help keep your frustration in check.
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 talk louder without interrupting the flow of the conversation. Best practice communication tips like getting our attention first or speaking one at a time can also help. When in doubt, ask your communication partners to speak to you like they speak to Siri. The extra clarity can really help.
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. Forgive yourself for hearing boo-boos and others will too.
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 holidays 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.
For more Hearing Hacks read my book (co-authored with Gael Hannan) entitled Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss.
Readers, what hearing friendly strategies do you use at holiday dinners?
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28 thoughts on “How to Make Your Holiday Dinner Hearing Loss Friendly”
First of all, I am thankful for people like yourself who advocate so much for the HOH. Thanks for the tips. I will bring it along with me to my in-laws in Scranton as we fit 20, mostly adults, into a small Sears catalog house from the 20’s!
Have a great Thanksgiving.
Enjoy the holiday! Thanks for your comment.
Tablecloths! They reduce the echo. That glass table needs a nice thick tablecloth.
Good one! Thanks for sharing your idea.
Lots of good suggestions Shari. I would, however, change that table layout so that there are 2 seats at each end and 3 each side. I prefer a group of 6 as I can then see everyone and there is usually only one conversation going on. Groups of 8 and more creates more conversations going on at the same
time! Also if I was choosing a venue, carpet and soft furnishings reduce the noise levels. I sometimes take one hearing aid out if it’s really noisy.
Thank you for sharing what works for you. Enjoy the holiday!
Good advice all around. Have an enjoyable holiday, Shari!
Thank you! Enjoy!
Have you discovered or tried the Bose Hearphone? I have a moderately severe, per my audiologist, or pretty severe per my ENT, bilateral hearing loss. For me, the discovery of this device has been a miracle. It pairs with my iPhone and you can dampen sound behind you and focus it to hear narrowly (think of a table for 2), 180 degrees (thin table of 4 or larger, or a round table). The sound quality is much crisper than my very very expensive hearing aids. While wearing this device I can hear it loud parties, at the table at bar mitzvahs or weddings, and even book club discussions of 16+ people without always having to ask people to repeat or speak louder. It has a 30 day moneyback no questions asked policy. it is a rubber collar with wires that go up to earbuds that go in the ear. Obviously you take hearing aids out. people assume you are wearing a necklace or are listening to music or a podcast. I have been wearing it for two years in social settings and nobody has thought it is a hearing device. My audiologist has told clients about it and some love it while for others it has not worked. I have three friends who have bought it and consider it to have transformed their lives. One friend who bought it last year in time for Thanksgiving said she was able to follow dinner conversation at the table for the first time in years, and the Bose store sales person showed her how to adjust the bass and treble to better pick up her grandchildren’s voices. Bose stores are not everywhere, but there are in Manhattan, and it can be bought on their website.
I have heard wonderful things about it from many people. I am so glad it works for you too! Definitely worth a try.
Bose HEARPHONES…Works better than any hearing aids I’ve ever used. Have one here phone since December 2018. I will never go back to wearing my hearing aids. Technically here phones, not a hearing aid. In fact, what was the release actual hearing aids in 2020. Best $500 I’ve ever spent. Unbelievable ways of adjusting trouble, bass and volume… no need to be adjusted by audiologist..
Thank you Shari for your thanksgiving blog and 8 suggestions for hearing success. For suggestion 9, just bought thanksgiving place cards at $dollar store to strategically arrange the guests /voices / children around the table. This is my first thanksgiving with hearing aids. Looking forward to hearing most of the conversation I had been missing the past few years!
Strategic seating is key! Thank you for sharing your suggestion. Enjoy the holiday!
Lots of plush pillows, carpet, low ceilings, for improved acoustics.
Round tables are THE BEST!
Most families do not have such tables.
Round tables enable everyone to see each other’s faces…thus improving comprehension and flow of conversation.
Round tables are the best, but are few and far between. Thanks for sharing your suggestions.
The lecture series I’m part of has round tables for 10 during lunch. Because my problem is severe distortion more than simply not hearing, I usually can’t understand more than an occasional word, just enough to make me wish I could hear more! I’m going to give my new Samsung phone and Live Transcribe a chance to see if that can help, but tests at home with the TV have been disappointing. I have a mic, so will try to pair it with the Samsung. Still, having a mic and/or phone/tablet on the table isn’t easy as I always fear someone spilling when they pour water. Otherwise, the room is carpeted, with thick tablecloths, about a 12′ ceiling. Thanksgiving will just be the two of us, although I’ll fight hard to make my other half join me at the table for a change.
I am glad you are experimenting to see what works. Trial and error is the only way sometimes. Good luck to you!
Thanks for these suggestions. My husband is the one who puts the music on. I must learn to challenge him on that.
Absolutely! Have a great holiday!
Thank you for these suggestion. This is the first year I am hosting a gathering at my home with being diagnosed as HOH. I am rearrange the seating area now and changing the lights to be a little brighter than what I have as this will help me to lip read.
Excellent! Enjoy the holiday!
I am thankful for this post this Thanksgiving.
So glad you found it helpful! Enjoy the holiday!
I am very late in getting in comments here. Thanksgiving is over but Christmas is coming! Thanks for all of your suggestions. (I may try a Bose Hearphone.) I will say that when there is a small group of 6 people, two on each side and one at each end, I like to sit on an end. That way I can see everyone face-to-face instead of relying on my poor “peripheral hearing” or craning my head. For larger groups I do sit in the middle of the table in the hopes of catching what I can from most people.
Excellent! Thanks for sharing what works for you.