The holidays are over and so begins a new year! One of the biggest joys of the holidays is seeing friends, families, and neighbors. It’s a time to reconnect with distant relatives and reminisce about fond childhood memories. But when one of the relatives struggles to follow the conversation, it can be a challenge to fully appreciate these moments. Did you notice Uncle Jim having more difficulty following the conversation at Christmas dinner? Or did you see little Tim struggling to play with his cousins? How about Aunt Steph, who was unable to converse with her friends at the New Year’s Eve party? As an audiology student or audiologist, we are often observing interactions with our friends and family members. We are able to sense the communication challenges that others are facing, even when they can’t see it themselves. As we move forward during 2019, here are some helpful tips for including individuals with hearing loss in your family gatherings!
- Take control of the environment. If your family gathering is happening in a crowded, dark lit room with TVs or radios playing in the background, change the environment to become friendlier Turn up the lights and have the family member with hearing loss sit with his or her back to the windows, so the light from outside can be focused on others’ faces. Turn off the TV or put on subtitles. Additionally, it is important to consider where the relative with hearing loss is seated. It’s easy for that person to sit in the corner, away from conversation; I’ve seen it happen too many times. Instead, try to have them sit near the action, ideally close to someone who is willing to repeat or rephrase parts of the conversation. This will help them feel more involved, and less isolated.
- Practice good communication skills. As future and current audiologists, we all have perfected our “clinic voice,” where we communicate effectively with our patients. But how many of us use our clinic voices at home? If you notice a family member is struggling to hear and understand, remember to not only use your clinic voice, but try to educate the rest of your family on good communication strategies as well. Encourage them to get the person’s attention before speaking, maintain eye contact, face the person, and speak clearly without yelling or exaggerating lip movements. This will help everyone at the table follow the conversation easier.
- Encourage the family member with hearing loss to be their own advocate. We’ve seen it all too often: faking it. When a family member is unable to follow a conversation, they get tired and frustrated. Eventually, it’s just easier for them to nod along and laugh, while secretly hoping a question wasn’t asked. Some individuals become so skilled at this, that it’s difficult for even audiologists to recognize their struggles. But the importance of advocacy cannot be undermined. Therefore, encourage your relatives to speak up for themselves, ask for clarification, or ask for modifications to be made to the listening environment. And when they do advocate for themselves, ensure that their requests are met with a smile, so they know their requests are not a bother. Showing them that you and your family are happy to accommodate them will make them more willing to advocate for themselves in the future.
Let’s make 2019 a year for better communication at all our family gatherings. Happy New Year!
Alexis Holt is a fourth-year AuD student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and is currently completing her externship at The South Bend Clinic, in South Bend, Indiana. She is involved with national SAA as the State Ambassador for Indiana and as a member of the Chapter and Member Relations Committee. Her interests within audiology include advocacy, cochlear implantation, and vestibular diagnostics.
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