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Holidays with Hearing Loss: 12 Tips for Families

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year – or the most stressful! For people with hearing loss, the season’s gatherings often mean struggling to connect with friends and family through tables of competing conversations and clattering dishes.

Whether you have hearing loss or are hosting someone who does, there are a number of things you can do to help everyone stay connected during festivities. Read below for 12 survival tips guaranteed to keep the holidays merry and bright.

If you have hearing loss…

  • Wear your hearing aids, if you have them! It should go without saying, but this step is often forgotten. Also considering paying your hearing specialist a visit for a hearing aid tune-up before heading out for the holidays and be sure to bring extra batteries to all holiday events.
  • Don’t be shy about your needs. Let your loved ones know that you want to make sure you’re a part of conversations. Ask them to keep background noise such as music or television to a minimum and speak clearly.
  • Team up! Partner with a friend or relative ahead of time who can help keep you in the loop by filling you in on any bits of conversation you may miss.
  • Stay rested. It’s a lot of work trying to keep up with conversations when you have hearing loss. Be sure to get rest the day before and take a few minutes away from the crowd to refresh as needed to avoid hearing fatigue.
  • Go one-on-one.  Find chances to connect with individuals in a quiet room. Take the grandkids aside for some playtime or help the cook out in the kitchen.
  • Be strategic with your seating. Try to sit against a wall, in a position where you will be able to see as many people as possible. If you have a “good ear” position yourself to maximize its use. Seat those with quiet or high-pitched voices (such as children) closest to you.
  • Clear your view. Visual cues are critical for keeping up with the conversation, so make sure you can see everyone at the dinner table. Keep the room well-lit and remove any excessive centerpieces.
  • Go easy on yourself! Group settings are a challenging hearing situation. Even people with no hearing loss may have trouble following every conversation. Have your best holiday by having realistic expectations and celebrating the positives.

If you’re hosting a guest with hearing loss…

  • Get their attention. Before you start speaking, say the person’s name or touch their arm so they can “tune in” to what you’re saying.
  • Reduce excess noise. Turn off background noise like TV and music.
  • Speak naturally, but clearly. Shouting or over-emphasizing your words can actually make them harder to understand. Make lip-reading easier by refraining from chewing while talking.
  • Have the conversation, one-on-one. Holidays and family gatherings are often the moment when the difficulties of hearing loss become most apparent. If you’re ready to approach a loved one about treating their hearing loss, wait until after the big gathering has died down so you can talk one-on-one. Use our tips for helping a loved one with hearing loss to address the issues and see if they’ll take the first step toward better hearing through an easy online hearing test.

 

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Connect Hearing Heads to Haiti

HEAR Haiti volunteers clean hearing aids in the deaf community of Lévêque

Day one on a HEAR Haiti trip means immersion: not just in the culture of Haiti, but in that of Deaf Haiti (the term used to refer to the nation’s community of people with all levels of hearing loss).

As part of a team of nine Sonova volunteers, Connect Hearing’s Jody Pogue and Haley Kurzawa began their work in Haiti earlier this month by piling into a van and diving deep into a Haiti they had never seen on television. First up was a visit to Cité Soleil, the famously harsh section of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. There they spent time with a group of children rescued by one man after the 2010 earthquake in a small structure set up as a four-room school. Next they visited Metal Works, a community of artisans employing members of the deaf population. They also made a stop at the Apparent Project which enables parents, through gainful employment, to keep their children with them and off the streets.  Last was Lévêque, the small town where much of the deaf community was relocated from the tent city they formed following the earthquake, and where the team would conduct much of their work for the next week.

For Jody, who recently returned from work with Hear the World’s Kentucky site, this initiation was critical.

“We tend to go to places like Haiti and think we have all the answers but we’re thinking with our own mentality,” Jody noted. “Cathy [Jones, Executive Director of Hear the World US] tries to make sure we start to see beyond this.”

This sometimes means shedding expectations about what “help” looks like. When the HEAR Haiti initiative launched in 2012, volunteers expected to be doing hearing aid screenings and fittings. But they found the community was most concerned about having no source for light at night. As a result, that first trip focused instead on bringing solar panels and lighting to the community.

Since 2012, the initiative has regularly brought teams of audiological specialists to Haiti to provide hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, and maintenance services to the hearing impaired community. In an effort to create local jobs and ensure the program’s sustainability, specialists also train local staff members in providing audiological care.

During February’s week-long trip, Jody and Haley performed hearing evaluations and hearing aid fittings at both the Haiti Deaf Academy and at Respire Haiti, a mountaintop medical center and mission in Gressier, Haiti.

While their work allowed them to work with academy students, members of the deaf community and Lévêque’s larger population, they found their work with children left some of the most lasting impressions.

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Jody with a smiling G.

One of the most memorable patients was Little G., a boy who had been orphaned in the earthquake and had lost his hearing following a high fever at age six. After traveling for four hours to see the team, he had to wait several more hours until he could be seen. Recounts Jody:

“The whole time he waited and moved through our testing and fitting stations, he had a very serious, stoic expression on his face. The last step was to come into the little room with us and put the hearing aids on. His pastor told him he might hear some noises in his ears before we turned them on for the feedback test. As soon as we did, the most beautiful grin broke out on his face. He didn’t stop smiling the rest of the time.”

Meanwhile Haley told the story of M., a little girl heard sound for the very first time when she was fitted with hearing aids during the trip.

“I said, ‘Bop bop bop’ and her eyes just grew wide. For the next half hour, she kept repeating ‘Bop bop bop.’”

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Little M. hears for the first time with Haley

While the trip was not without difficulties – most notably a dire water shortage that left the orphanage where volunteers stayed  without running water for three days and has made already scarce access to clean water even more difficult – both Haley and Jody said they would return in a heartbeat.

“It took me about 45 minutes after getting home before I didn’t feel too guilty to shower,” remembers Haley. “But I was looking at pictures of little M. yesterday and I can’t describe the desire to go back.”

Says Jody, “I just feel so grateful for the experience and amazed at the generous spirits of the people we met.”