Thanksgiving is one of my favorite nights of the year. I look forward to my sister’s amazing dinner spread and silliness and laughter with various family personalities (you know who you are!).
It is also around this time of year that I am the busiest. It is holiday season and many of your parents and grandparents are so excited to visit with loved ones. I get to talk with them about their upcoming plans, and also I see much angst around not being able to hear everyone very well, especially if they are joining larger gatherings.
In the spirit of keeping everyone part of the conversation, I thought I’d put together some tips to keep in mind when engaging with a loved one who also has a hearing loss. These communication strategies can work with and without hearing aids.
Seating. Long dinner tables make for difficulty hearing across distance. It may be that your mom or dad ends up hearing only those immediately seated next to, or across from them. Keep that in mind as everyone is seated. Somewhere around the middle of the table may allow for them to access both sides, or it may be that they prefer to stay off to one end. Consider who will they want to engage with the most and who will be accommodating.
Conversation overwhelm. It can be difficult for your grandparent to sort out a single voice through noisy dinner chatter. Consider keeping them involved by cuing others to take turns or stick to one group conversation or topic at a time.
Room Acoustics. Does your dining room have high ceilings or bare floors? These kinds of listening environments are super challenging for a person with hearing loss. Area rugs or seating your guest at the table where a wall is behind them can mitigate reverberance.
Visual hearing. That’s right. I said it. As hearing loss progresses, our parents may be relying on other modes of sensory input to catch some if not all of what is being said. Making sure you are turned and facing them (and not talking to them while your head is in the fridge, for example) ensures they visually read what you have to say, in addition to hearing it. So hold off on those fancy centerpieces and dim lighting.
Quiet family room. If such a thing exists in your home on a holiday dinner night, this is the most ideal place to hold a conversation with your hard-of-hearing parent or grandparent. Consider sitting at a closer distance, facing them. It not only makes for easier give-and-take, but creates space for a deeper exchange.
Visit your eye and ear professional! Not hearing means a greater dependence on visual hearing, and regular eye exams mean more accurate eye glass prescriptions, if necessary. Visit your audiologist to get a baseline hearing test, or to clean and check or even reprogram hearing aids to make sure they are working optimally for these very special nights.
May the holiday season bring you and your loved ones joy and peace!