By Carolyn Stern, Director, Outreach and Strategic Initiatives
Post Update: December 20, 2022
The holidays are a joyful time, but may create communication challenges for people with hearing loss, myself included. Keeping up with conversations, the anxiety of mishearing and responding inappropriately or feeling alone at a noisy social gathering full of people can be daunting.
Over the years, I’ve learned to take certain steps to reduce the toll and increase my ability to enjoy the holidays. I’d like to share those tips with you in the hope you find them helpful as I have. They reflect not only my experience, but also the insight and wisdom of hearing access advocates Arlene Romoff and Ruth Bernstein, from whom I have learned tremendously over the years.
Holiday Tips for Less Stress, More Joy
Don’t over schedule - Build in down time to restore your energy, especially before attending a big gathering with loud music and chatter.
Reduce your length of stay – A shorter stay may feel more manageable and less wearing if the listening environment is challenging. Let the host and your party know about your plan. That way, you won’t feel guilty cutting out early or receive pressure to stay longer.
Consider attending very early or late - Try not to show up at the height of the party when it will be at its most crowded and loud. Seek quieter times, before or after the rush.
Find a communication buddy - Ask a trusted friend to cue you into the topic of conversation and fill in what you missed.
Think about potential topics of conversation - Having ideas of what may be discussed can help with handling spontaneous social conversations and filling in missed words, especially with people you don’t know well. Familiarizing yourself with current events, trending topics of the day and popular small-talk topics like the weather can help.
Become familiar with who's attending – Knowing a little about who is attending and their names can help you more quickly figure out who you are talking with and reduce potential confusion and disorientation in a conversation, especially if it's noisy. If possible, ask the host in advance, check the evite list or the charity committee listed on the invitation or website. If you’re having trouble, ask the person to write their name down, text it to you or share their business card.
Activate the noise program of your hearing technology - Hearing aids or cochlear implants often have settings that help reduce background noise. Consider using an accessory coupled with your aid or implant such as the Phonak Roger Pen or Roger Select that can improve your ability to hear in noise. If you are unfamiliar with these options, ask your audiologist for assistance.
Try real-time captioning app on a smart device - Consider apps such as Google Live Transcribe, Otter, Ava or Live Captions (iPhone’s new automated captioning feature that can be set up in the phone’s settings under accessibility) that display transcription of spoken language on the smart device’s screen instantly.
Build in listening breaks - If you’re feeling listening fatigue, give your ears and brain a break by taking a walk outside or hanging in the lobby or an unoccupied room where you can sit quietly for a few minutes or read. Consider offering to help the host in the kitchen or do a store run for more ice or drinks.
Schedule downtime - Schedule downtime doing restorative activities you enjoy. This means something different for everyone. For myself, I like to schedule quality one-on-one time with friends or family whose company I enjoy and with whom I can easily communicate. I also find it restful reading good books and watching movies and shows with captions and my Bluetooth streamer. Think about what activities recharge you. That way, you’ll have some things to look forward to when the other situations over the holidays start to wear you down.
I highly recommend these indispensable holiday survival resources from advocates who have helped me tremendously over the years:
I hope this advice is helpful to you as you navigate the season’s communication demands. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to share them with me using the email link below.
I wish you all the best of luck!
As Director of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives, Carolyn Stern is responsible for public education and community outreach on issues relating to the hearing health needs of older adults. She is passionate about helping seniors get their hearing issues addressed so they can lead productive and connected lives.