Hearing & The Holidays, by Carol Rose

In the past two issues of Health & Happiness, I’ve written about hearing loss and cited some hearing assistive technology (HAT), which can make hearing easier, whether or not you wear hearing aids or have a cochlear implant.

This time I’m writing about a time when hearing is difficult, just plain difficult no matter what device we might be using, with or without our hearing aids and/or cochlear implant – THE HOLIDAYS!

Crowds, noise, football games, conversation, background music, many people around the table all talking at once; shopping in big stores with noise not only from the crowds but from the “music” and blaring announcements…

Noisy kitchens…  Dinners out…   long travels…   airports… understanding people whose voices are not familiar…

But we want to see family and friends and celebrate the festiveness with them. We, with hearing loss, want to be part of the happenings. 

What to do? You might consider some of the following…

First, be proactive!  Let your needs be known. Let your friends and family know you not only want to be with them over the holidays, but you want to HEAR them. 

If plans involve a dinner out, see whether you can help reserve a table in a quiet part of the restaurant, away from the kitchen, bar, wait service stations, etc.

If the restaurant has background music playing, make sure your table is not near a speaker, and don’t hesitate to ask that the music be turned down.  If you are part of planning where the dinner will be, pick a quieter restaurant over a noisy sports bar.

If the holiday dinner is at someone’s home, ask the hostess/host ahead of time whether they can scratch background music and schedule the dinner at a time a noisy football game or other program is not on the television set. If the happening is in your own home, maybe you could invite fewer people.

Holiday parties are not the best time to try to get to know strangers, as their voice and facial expressions will be foreign to you and make it much more difficult to lip read, also known as speech reading (a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue). You can say, “I have a hearing loss, and I’m not understanding you.  Perhaps we could find a quiet place to talk.”  

If it’s not possible to move to a quiet place, and you’d really like to get to know the person better, consider asking him or her to write down contact information and call, text or email them later to set up a time to talk in a quieter environment.

If the holiday activity involves watching a program or movie, consider using closed captioning.  Don’t be shy about asking for this service if you’re watching the program in another’s home.  Remember, be proactive!

It’s probably not possible to have the music and announcements turned down in large stores, but if you wear hearing aids, you can turn them down or OFF!  If you are shopping with others, let them know what you are doing and invite them either to text you, (even if they are standing right beside you), or hand write notes.  I have successfully used this method in noisy restaurants.  This can also help with extremely loud home gatherings, and it can sometimes be fun to text or write notes with the person who is sitting right next to you.  It helps to share this method of communication with others at the gathering so they won’t think you are being rude and can join in the “conversation.”

When at dinner, whether in a restaurant or a home, consider placing yourself at the head of the table so you can see everyone’s face and lip read.   A problem with relying on lip reading is only 30% of speech can be seen, the other 70% is inferred by context clues.  It is a LOT of work! For that reason, I suggest you consider shortening the length of your social times so the gatherings stay enjoyable.  And if possible, plan attending gatherings at least a few days apart.  Give yourself some recoup time.

When attending an event where hearing conditions might be stressful, I often drive my own vehicle, enabling me to leave when needed, without interfering with others.  I also touch base with others in my party and/or the host/hostess to let them know I might leave early and why.  That allows for a graceful, quiet exit, without causing a disruption in the flow of others’ conversations.

I urge you to bring a good nature, sense of humor and patience with you this holiday season!  This can be your gift to others!

And if you’re looking to make a charitable donation this season, consider the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL), a Marquette-based, non-profit organization serving people with disabilities, their families, and the wider Upper Peninsula community since 1998. The staff provides information, referrals, support, and advocacy services to people with a wide variety of disabilities, including hearing loss. They also work on a larger scale, helping governments, businesses, and other organizations make changes that improve life for everyone in the community.

To donate, call (906) 228-5744 or toll free (800) 379-7245, or mail a check (payable to SAIL) to 1200 Wright St. Suite A, Marquette, MI 49855.  To learn more about SAIL, go to http://www.upsail.com.

*For more tips on facilitating communication between those with hearing loss and those without, go to www.hearingloss.org/content/living-hearing-loss.

Carol Rose is a writer, photographer, found object artist and outdoor enthusiast living in Grand Marais. Wondering about bluetooth technology and HAT (Hearing Assistive Technology)? Carol will discuss this in a future issue of Health & Happiness! In the meantime, she wishes you Happy Hearing!

This article was reprinted with permission from the Winter 2013 – 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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