Ross Tonini, Au.D. (320x240)
Ross Tonini, Au.D.

Gather a family together for the holidays, and it’s bound to get a little loud – from conversations with long-lost cousins to cheering for the football game on TV. For many, this adds up to holiday fun but for people who suffer from hearing loss, it can cause frustration, confusion and even isolation, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

“There are different types of hearing loss, but as we age the primary thing that is affected is the ability to hear soft sounds and the ability to understand speech, especially in a room with a lot of background noise,” said Dr. Ross Tonini, an audiologist at Baylor.

During holiday gatherings, loud noise and group conversations can fill the background of any room, which creates a difficult environment for some individuals to be able to hear and understand. In a loud environment, Tonini said those with hearing loss may withdraw from conversations due to their inability to keep up.

“Hearing loss has the ability to isolate us. We begin to withdraw from conversations, and this can become obvious during the holidays. The thing you come together to do the most is communicate yet some people with hearing loss will withdraw to another room and separate themselves from the family because it is so frustrating to not be able to hear,” he said.

For some, understanding that they suffer from hearing loss just might be the first step to enjoying family get-togethers again. If you notice that mom or dad or another aging family member has become less interested in doing the things they love and they isolate themselves from certain gatherings, you may want to have them evaluated for hearing loss, Tonini said.

When someone with hearing loss is at your holiday gathering, Tonini offered some tips on effectively communicating:

  • Reduce background noise as much as possible. This could mean turning down the volume on the TV or turning it off altogether.
  • Speak slowly and clearly but not loudly.
  • Do not repeat the same thing over and over, instead restate it. This helps to provide context to the person you’re talking to.
  • Focus on the person with hearing loss and make sure he or she knows what the topic of conversation is so there’s no disconnect.

As we age, hearing loss becomes more of a reality for us as well as those around us. When sitting together at the dinner table with family, it is important for those with normal hearing to understand that there may be family around that are struggling to keep up with conversation.

It is best to assume that if you are speaking to an older person that they have some type of hearing loss, and if its obvious they have some problems you need to look for ways to fit them into the conversation. “If you are struggling to hear the person next you at the loud dinner table, than the hearing impaired could be utterly lost,” he said.