By Carolyn Stern, Manager, Center for Hearing and Aging

Carolyn Stern, manager of Hearing Health Days for NYC seniors

Carolyn Stern, Manager, CHC’s Center for Hearing and Aging

As a bilateral cochlear implant user, I’ve found the holiday season to be a challenging time for me because there are so many different types of social situations. While I love taking part in family gatherings, work celebrations, meals out with friends, religious services and community events, the season can leave me feeling exhausted because of all the energy I use to follow communication. And it can be anxiety provoking because of my fear of mishearing, responding inappropriately or simply feeling so alone and disconnected in a room full of people I can’t interact with or hear.

Over the years, I’ve learned to take certain steps to reduce the toll and increase my ability to enjoy the holidays. I’d like to share those tips with you in the hope that you find them helpful as I have. They reflect not only my experience, but also the insight and wisdom of hearing access advocates Arlene Romoff and Ruth Bernstein, from whom I have learned tremendously over the years.

Holiday tips for less stress, more joy

Planning Ahead

  • Try not to over schedule yourself and be sure to build in down time to restore your energy, especially before attending a big gathering with loud music and chatter.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself to stay the whole time; that can be incredibly wearing. Let the host and/or the individuals with whom you are attending the event know about your plan. That way, you won’t feel guilty cutting out early or receive pressure to stay longer.
  • Give some thought about when to attend the gathering. For example, try not to show up at the height of the party when it will be at its most crowded and loud. Consider going extra early to catch quality conversation when it is quieter, before the rush begins.
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your communication buddy by cueing you into the topic of conversation. This will help you anticipate potential responses and fill in missing words with greater success.

Utilizing technology

  • If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, don’t forget to activate the noise reduction program, if you have one. Also, consider using an accessory coupled with your aid or implant such as the Phonak Roger Pen or Roger Select that can improve your ability to hear in noise. If you are unfamiliar with these options, ask your audiologist for assistance.
  • If you have a smartphone, try a real-time captioning app like Ava. This service displays captions of a live conversation on your smartphone, allowing you to follow along by reading the spoken words. In addition, if you have trouble hearing sufficiently to follow a religious service, consider improving your comprehension by using Ava in your house of worship. By having the clergy wear a Bluetooth microphone paired to your smartphone, you can sit in the pews and read the spoken words of the clergy when the Ava app is activated. To set this up, it’s best to introduce this new technology to your clergy in advance and test it out in the actual space. And, while you’re at it, don’t hesitate to request reserved seating upfront for you and those attending the service. That in itself can make a huge difference.

Coping strategies

  • If you’re feeling listening fatigue, give your ears and brain a break by taking a walk outside or hanging in the lobby or an unoccupied room where you can sit quietly for a few minutes or read. Consider offering to help the host in the kitchen or do a store run for more ice or drinks.
  • Schedule downtime doing restorative activities you enjoy. This means something different for everyone. For myself, I like to schedule quality one-on-one time with friends or family whose company I enjoy and with whom I can easily communicate. I also find it restful reading good books and watching movies and shows with captions and my Bluetooth streamer. Think about what activities recharge you. That way, you’ll have some things to look forward to when the other situations over the holidays start to wear you down.

I highly recommend these indispensable holiday survival resources from advocates who have helped me tremendously over the years:

Holiday Madness by Arlene Romoff »

Holiday Gifts for People with Hearing Loss by Ruth Bernstein »

I hope this advice is helpful to you as you navigate the season’s communication demands. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to share them with me using the email link below.

Contact me »

I wish you all the best of luck!

Learn about assistive technology »

Take part in CHC’s free weekly devices demo »

As Manager of CHC’s Center for Hearing and Aging, Carolyn Stern is responsible for public education and community outreach on issues relating to the hearing health needs of older adults. She is passionate about helping seniors get their hearing issues addressed so they can lead productive and connected lives.