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.

Keeping Elder Holidays Special

By Barb Dupras

The holidays are a special time for celebrating family, renewing your connections with loved ones and being together.  But families, like life, go through change, especially with older loved ones.  Keeping the spirit of the holiday alive despite these changes keeps the fabric of family strong.

When there have been changes in a senior’s life—  a new debilitating medical condition,  loss of some independence, loss of a loved one, or even a change in the environment, the holidays can bring depression.  This can be exhibited by loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, slowed thinking or response, decreased level of hygiene, inability to focus or concentrate, change in sleep patterns, loss of appetite and/or increased forgetfulness.  If you have a feeling something is just not right, it might be good to talk to your loved one— it may be he or she is experiencing a simple fear that that can be remedied with reassurance. Communication is always important.  Just knowing that you care gives your loved one that emotional support.  During the holidays, continue to give your loved one a feeling of being needed (lack of this can also be a fear).  Have him/her assist with holiday preparations such as decorating or cooking.  Take a drive to see the holiday lights. Encourage him/her to tell stories of the past.  Have the youngest serve the eldest first at meal time.  All these things will help your senior feel loved no matter what changes have taken place.  But if your loved one continues to exhibit symptoms of depression after two weeks, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor.  The doctor would know if it could be a side effect from a medication or interaction between the meds and can give you information on how it could be treated.  Also be aware that the senior’s generation did not recognize depression.  The senior’s reaction may be one of not understanding, feeling that this shows weakness of character or is a mental illness.  Some people have the mistaken belief that depression is a part of aging.  Depression in the elderly results from losses and changes that are not caused by the physical aspects of aging.  A strong  deterrent to depression is having a strong network of support from family and/or friends.

Another big change can be a medical condition resulting in loss of physical functioning – stroke, severe arthritis, etc.  Be mindful of your senior’s new physical needs.  Are there steps in the house that would be difficult?  Does the senior now need help getting up the porch steps?  If the holiday is at the family home, does the senior need an elevated toilet seat?  Can it be brought from the senior’s home?  Also, with any new condition, one’s energy level would certainly change.   Be aware that your senior may tire easily and need to rest.  Also, he/she may not tolerate the stimulation of being with a lot of people as well as before but may not want to say anything.  Also be aware that there may be new dietary needs.  Locating an Elder Care online site could prove to be an invaluable resource for information.

One of the biggest challenges in celebrating holidays is with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  If you are the caregiver and the festivities are at your house, it may be a good idea to send a letter to the family who are coming explaining the changes in your loved one so they will not be surprised or offended.  It is important to let them know that the senior cannot process information as he/she did before.  It helps to be specific.  Also, if you are the caregiver it may help to make things simpler to give yourself a break.  Asking for a holiday potluck may be a nice variation.

In terms of the senior, it would be helpful to have a special room where he or she could rest  or be out of the fray of people.  The person with the dementia cannot tolerate much stimulation.  Helping your loved one maintain the usual routine as much as possible does help, as it gives the senior a feeling of stability.  Even though the dementia slows down functioning, it is still important to include the senior in the festivities as much as possible, though at a later stage of Alzheimer’s, this could be a challenge to consider carefully.

If your loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s is in a nursing facility, you can still celebrate together with a visit.  People with dementia often cannot remember what they ate five minutes ago but do remember in detail the history of topics important to them.  To help make a connection with your loved one, you could bring in pictures or an old photo album and talk about the past.  You may be surprised how much will be shared.  Another idea is to bring in old recordings of songs of his or her era.  Or even sing them with him or her.  There always is a thread of remembrance of favorite songs no matter what the severity of dementia.  You can also start a project in which he/she puts together old pictures in an album.  Be creative – the results will be a lasting memory which you will cherish.  For more information regarding dealing with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, the local Alzheimer’s Association in Marquette has a library filled with information.  Phone calls with questions are also welcomed.

One of the most common challenges in these times is the distance between families.  We all know that it is important to stay connected.  In this high tech age there are some opportunities that may help.  For those who have a computer, having a regular meeting using a video conferencing program such as Skype program can help.   Family members can see each other on the screen and actually talk with one another.  Another idea is to give your grandparents webcams.  Then make a date every week to connect.   Obtain a free conference line on your phone that you can send to all family members.  Celebrate with your seniors long distance by signing up at FreeConferenceCall.com or Mr.Conference.com.  Charges are the same as long distance calls for each person.

We can make the holidays the special time they’ve always been meant to be,  regardless of the changes.  Our elders are a rich source of wisdom, history and love that can help bind a family together in  precious ways.  Let’s always value them and make them as much a part of our lives as we are able.

Barbara Dupras is a newly retired Senior Center Social Worker.  She is also an energy practitioner and is on the board of Natural Connections.  Barbara lives in a wonderful home on the Chocolay River with her cat Vido. 

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2011 – 2012