For many of the millions of Americans with hearing impairment, especially the 27 million living with untreated hearing loss, the holidays may not be all that happy, says audiologist Cindy Beyer, senior VP of HearUSA, West Palm Beach, Fla. Beyer said studies have linked hearing loss to stress, frustration, and social isolation, "which can easily be intensified at holiday gatherings with families and friends, when many of those with hearing impairment may find conversations both difficult and isolating.
"Hearing loss is often labeled ‘the invisible handicap’ because there are no outward signs of a handicap or limitations," said Beyer. "As a result, we are unlikely to be aware that accommodations may be necessary to avoid a breakdown in communication."
Beyer suggests the following for making holiday meals and celebrations more comfortable and enjoyable for people with hearing impairment, and for the those around them:
- Speak clearly and distinctly, but not too fast, and never shout.
- If you’re asked to repeat something, do so without raising your voice and appearing annoyed.
- If your comment or question is still not being understood after repetition, reword it. Some words are easier to understand than others.
- In a group situation, be sure that the person is included in the conversation. If not, bring him or her back in.
- When speaking, look directly at the person and try not to be more than five feet apart.
- Your facial expressions and gestures and your overall body language are important aids in communicating, so try to be sure that you have the listener’s attention and that the room is well lit.
- Conversation is greatly enhanced when there is no distracting background noise from a radio or TV.
- When dining out, choose a quiet restaurant. Noisy conversations and the clatter of dishes and tableware in a crowded dining area are barriers to effective communication.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to make communication easier. For example, conversation will be much easier to understand in a room with carpeting and well-upholstered furniture than in a room with tiled floors, high ceilings, or wooden furniture.
While almost all hearing loss can be successfully treated with hearing aids, only 25% of the 36 million Americans with hearing loss have them, according to the Better Hearing Institute, which notes that most hearing aid users report significant improvement in their interpersonal relationships and social lives.
"Today’s digital hearing aids are smaller, smarter, and more comfortable than ever before," said Beyer. "I can think of no greater gift during the holiday season than encouraging a loved one or a friend with untreated hearing loss to consider the impact they could have on their lives."
HearUSA operates a network of more than 2,000 hearing care providers and 178 company owned centers. The company is also the administrator of the AARP Hearing Care program, which aims to help millions of Americans aged 50-plus who have untreated hearing loss.