In a blog written exclusively for Starkey, April Corner — who was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in 2016 and has been wearing hearing aids ever since — talks about how to survive holiday gatherings.
When I was first diagnosed with hearing loss, it was just before the holidays. I was SO overwhelmed and anxious and, to be honest, I still get a bit anxious when I have to go to social gatherings.
It can be exhausting when you constantly have to ask someone to repeat themselves, and it can be overstimulating when there are multiple conversations happening over each other.
Back then, I wished I’d had a guide to help me get through the holidays, or at least some tips to help me prepare.
Since then, I’ve put together that list of tips — some for people like me and some for those who have friends or family members like me.
Five tips for people like me
- Advocate for yourself. Now I know this one can feel uncomfortable and nerve wracking, BUT people are not mind readers and everyone needs reminders. If you are uncomfortable doing this in person, send a friendly text to the host before you go asking if they can limit the background music or keep the lights bright (or whatever it is you need to help you communicate better). We all have a lot going on and people are usually thinking of their own needs. I still constantly have to remind my family to limit background music, even after 6 years! I've learned to not take it personally and to stay consistent with my needs.
- Leave early. The holidays are a lot for most people. Don't be afraid to stay for a quick visit and leave. I find larger gatherings exhausting, and more often than not the host will understand. And if they don't, oh well, you have to do what feels right for you.
- Be strategic. If you are attending a dinner, think about the best place to sit to increase better communication. I personally like the end seat or the corner seat. This allows me to see most faces in case I need to lip read.
- Be prepared. If I'm attending a gathering with a lot of people I don't know, I will sometimes wear a pin that reads "Hard of hearing. Please be patient." I find this gives me a bit of a confidence boost. If you don't have a pin, be prepared to let the person know you are hearing impaired and they may need to repeat themselves. When meeting someone new, one of the first things I tell them is that I'm hearing impaired. It helps set the tone for the conversation and most people try to speak louder and more clearly. Some people are not comfortable disclosing their hearing loss and that's okay! If this is the case for you, try and stand somewhere off to the side with good lighting to set yourself up positively for conversations.
- Say no. If you really are not comfortable or feel overwhelmed, no holiday gathering is worth stressing over. Send the host a message thanking them for the invite — you don't need to explain further unless you want to.
Three tips I give to friends and family
- Face forward. When speaking to someone who is hearing impaired, it is important to face them while talking. Try not to turn your face away, as it makes it more difficult to hear and the read your lips
- Don't yell. Whether it is from across the room or just in general, don't yell. A normal volume and clear words are usually all you need to aim for. Some people who are hearing impaired may need a few different accommodations (hopefully they will let you know them), but speaking clearly is the best place to start.
- Pay attention. If you think the room is loud and are having a hard time paying attention, chances are the person who is hearing impaired is struggling even more. A lot of people don't realize that, yes, hearing aids help you hear, but they can sometimes be too loud. If you notice the environment is getting too loud, maybe ask the host to try and make some adjustments — like turning the music off entirely. Try to keep conversations one at a time (this may be hard in a large group), and check in with the person who is hearing impaired to if they need any accommodations. Some people struggle to speak up. If you feel comfortable enough to ask, I'm sure the person would appreciate you trying!
Over the years I've come to realize that, at the end of the day, I have to do what is right for me. This holiday season, I encourage everyone to do the same!