Home for the Holidays: How to Help Loved Ones With Hearing Loss at Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Gatherings

ASHA Offers Tips for Families of the 48 Million Americans With Hearing Loss

November 18, 2021

A multimedia version of this press release is also available.

(Rockville, MD) As many extended families prepare to gather for their first Thanksgiving dinner since the pandemic began, experts at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) are offering advice on how to help loved ones who are hard of hearing more fully participate in these celebrations.

More than 48 million Americans have hearing loss. A recent national poll from ASHA and YouGov found that almost half of American adults (46%) say they have a close family member or other loved one who has difficulty hearing. And although untreated hearing loss is associated with poorer quality of life as well as an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, depression, falls, and a host of other serious conditions, many adults do not seek treatment for years, even decades—if ever.

“While this will no doubt be a joyous time for relatives to reconnect after missing many holidays together due to COVID-19, some may notice a loved one is having more difficulty understanding others or following the conversation—or perhaps seeming more withdrawn than the last time they were together,” said A. Lynn Williams, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2021 ASHA President. “These are tell-tale signs of hearing loss. Families can help these loved ones better enjoy important celebrations—and can be an integral voice in encouraging them to seek help for their hearing loss.” 

ASHA advises that families do the following to help family members with hearing difficulties:

  • Reduce background noise. Competing noise from the television or radio can make it more difficult to hear.

  • Take turns while talking. It can be challenging to follow the conversation when multiple people are speaking at once. Encourage everyone to adopt this practice.

  • Speak clearly, but don’t shout. Louder isn’t necessarily clearer—and nobody likes to be yelled at when they’re trying to enjoy themselves.

  • Face your loved one directly as you speak. Don’t turn your back on your conversation partner or shout from another room. People often need to see your lips and facial expressions to understand what you’re saying.

  • Use good lighting. A dim room will limit the visual cues (e.g., mouth movements) that people with hearing difficulties often use to help them decipher what someone is saying.

  • Be patient. Try not to get annoyed if you must repeat your message. If someone doesn’t understand you the first time, rephrase what you said. Don’t give up on communicating!

  • Seat guests strategically. Arrange the dinner table with conversation in mind. Seat the person with hearing difficulty next to someone who will help keep them involved.

  • Understand the impact of masks. Some family members may choose to wear masks while not actively eating. Although masks are an important protective measure against COVID-19, they can dampen sound and make communication more difficult. Find tips to help here.

  • Learn the signs of hearing loss. These include raising the TV volume beyond what’s comfortable for others, frequently requiring speech to be repeated, and seeming irritable or withdrawn.

  • Encourage your loved one to seek help. A person might not think their hearing is that bad or that they’re getting by just fine. But many people underestimate their level of hearing trouble and how it’s affecting other aspects of their lives. Be gentle but persistent. Let them know you’re concerned, that treatment can improve their lives immensely, and that you can help them.

Act Now on Hearing

As a first step, family members and friends can visit www.ActNowonHearing.com. There they’ll find information about the signs of hearing loss, treatment options, and how to find help locally by connecting with a certified audiologist.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 218,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

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