We’ve all had the experience of being together with family during the holiday season and there is Grandma or Grandpa sitting quietly in the corner alone. You might think he or she isn’t feeling good and wants to be left alone or is mad about getting the wrong gift. But did you ever think your grandparent might be suffering from a hearing loss that is making him or her anxious and quiet?
For those who suffer from hearing loss, this time of year can cause anxiety. The numerous dinners and get-togethers can cause listening difficulties right up through the New Year.
To make situations even more challenging for the hearing impaired, the wearing of masks to decrease the spread of COVID-19 has made communicating even harder due to the loss of visual cues and the muffling of speech. The data show that each mask essentially serves as a low-pass filter, attenuating the high frequencies (2000-7000 Hz) spoken by the wearer, with the decibel (dB) level of attenuation ranging from 3 to 4 dB for a simple medical mask and close to 12 dB for the N95 masks (HearingReview.com, April 1, 2020). This decrease in speech clarity, on top of a high-frequency hearing loss, will make conversations extremely difficult and very frustrating for the listener and the speaker.
Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic values family time and wants to help by giving suggestions on how to make holiday communication enjoyable. Here are some simple tips that will help your loved one feel part of the excitement during the holidays:
1. When you are out at a restaurant or have a large family gathering, remember to have your family member who is hearing impaired sit away from noise with their back to a wall. This will allow them to have less competing ambient noise to deal with. If the server is wearing a mask, your family member may have difficulty understanding them and may need some assistance depending on the noise level of the restaurant.
2. When there’s a large group of people, take turns speaking. This will make listening easier not just for the individual with the hearing loss, but also for everyone else.
3. Get the person’s attention before starting to speak. Call their name or simply tap them on the shoulder to get their attention. They’ll be ready to listen with both ears.
4. If they don’t understand what you said, try rephrasing it, giving them the ability to hear it again.
5. If the gathering is in someone’s home, make sure the lighting in the room is bright. Dim lighting can make it difficult to see faces and read lips. You might say, “Grandpa reads lips? I never knew that.” In fact, we all have the talent of reading lips but might not rely on it as much. This is why people with even a mild hearing loss will have greater difficulty communicating when masks are worn.
6. If someone is singing or music is being played, wait to talk to them until it’s over. The less competition to hearing, the better the experience will be.
7. To ensure they heard what you said correctly, ask them to repeat what you said.
8. To enhance communication, talk to the other family members before your gathering so all are aware and on the same page on how to communicate with your hearing-impaired family member.
9. Before the gathering, ask your family member, “How can I help make your listening experience less stressful?” Showing an interest will allow them to be relaxed and less anxious.
Finally, the best tip we can give you is:
10. Don’t have your family member wait to improve their hearing one more year. Seek help and advice before the family dinner. This is so everyone can enjoy the holiday season this year. The audiologists at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic know the importance of family, especially during the holiday season. We can help you make the most beneficial decision to improve your hearing, your relationship with your family, and your quality of life. Call our office and schedule your personal consultation, and we encourage family members to join in on the appointment.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season from our family to yours. Thank you for your interest in our column, and, as always, please contact us with any questions or concerns.
Dianna Randolph, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).