Ask the Audiologist: How can I help my spouse enjoy holiday gatherings?

The holidays are for parties, special meals, and music. They are fun with friends and family that most of us look forward to. But for those with hearing loss, these gatherings can also be challenging listening situations that cause extra stress and fatigue.

It is difficult for people with hearing loss to keep up with conversation when multiple people are talking and there’s background noise and music, sometimes even with hearing aids. Over time, struggling to keep up can become a mentally draining experience that leaves the listener with hearing difficulties tired and frustrated.

To avoid that from happening again this year, here are some ways that you can help.

Visit a hearing care professional together

For those with hearing aids, a professional cleaning and check-up can ensure that they are in good working order. If your loved one hasn’t had a hearing test within the past year, this is also a good time to get one. This way, the hearing care professional can adjust their hearing aid settings to accommodate any changes that may have occurred in their hearing abilities.

An updated hearing test is also important even if they don’t wear hearing aids yet. Hearing loss often worsens over time. If this proves to be the case, it may be the extra push they need to finally get hearing aids.

Optimize your holiday events schedule

When your ears don’t hear all the words being spoken, your brain must work extra hard to fill in the blanks. This increased “listening effort” or mental strain often leaves listeners with hearing loss exhausted after trying to follow conversations for an extended period. Hearing aids have shown to dramatically reduce listening effort. But in extra challenging listening situations, such as cocktail parties or crowded restaurants, more basic hearing aid technology may still be lacking.

To minimize listening effort as much as possible, try to space out your holiday activities and gatherings. The downtime in between events would allow your spouse, as well as yourself, a chance to relax mentally and physically.

Minimize noise

If you are hosting, here are some things that you can do to create a more conversation-friendly environment:

  • If possible, host multiple, smaller parties rather than one large one. By reducing the crowd size, you can make each event quieter and more conducive to following conversations.
  • Music adds to the holiday spirit, but it also increases background noise that makes hearing speech hard. Try to limit music to one part of the house so that there are still quieter corners at the party. Consider turning off the music during meals.
  • Keep the space well-lit so that your spouse can use visual cues to help with speech understanding.
  • If you have a dinner with many people, your spouse will most likely only be able to communicate easily with the people seated immediately next to him. Make sure those are his favorite family members and friends.

Finally, ask him what he thinks would help. It’s great that you’re keeping the needs of your spouse in mind as the holidays approach. With open communication and a little planning, you can both enjoy the season as much as possible.