Hearing Your Best Over the Holidays

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By Kelsey Hampson

When I think of the holiday season, the first thing that comes to mind is the way it sounds. The barest hint of familiar Christmas music under the echoing bustle of shoppers in stores, straining to hear family members and friends over the rustling of wrapping paper and excited chatter, and the gradually increasing volume of children as they grow more and more restless and impatient for what gifts await them. It can be one of the loudest parts of the year (with the possible exception of fireworks on Canada Day), and as a person who is hard of hearing, it’s exhausting to get through.

So what can we do? We can’t deny every single holiday party invitation to just sit at home scrolling endlessly on Amazon for gifts for our loved ones. Tiring as it may be, half the fun of present shopping is wandering around the busy stores until something unexpected catches your eye, and you simply must be there to see the look on their face when they open their gift. Fortunately, with a little creative thinking and some technology utilization, we can make it a lot easier to cope.

I always like to plan for the shopping trip or event as much as possible. Try to hit the malls earlier on weekdays, when there’s a much better chance of fewer shoppers, or break your shopping up into multiple shorter trips. Bring a portable microphone that connects to your hearing aids or cochlear implants, so that you can turn your general volume down yet ensure you’ll be able to hear what’s important. Some people may dislike having a little microphone held towards their mouths like you’re a TV reporter, but I’ve found that almost everyone will understand when you explain that it’s not recording them, it’s just a device to make their voice louder and easier for you to hear. Finally, schedule hearing breaks for yourself to sit down for a few minutes and give your brain a break from sifting through the background noise. I like to bring a book and turn my hearing devices right off!

Since parties or holiday dinners can be less predictable than shopping alone, it’s important to advocate for yourself. Ask the host to turn down the music if you need to. Pick your seat for dinner carefully, keeping your better ear towards the table if applicable, and sitting with your back to a wall or corner to help funnel the conversation towards you. I like to make sure there’s at least one group activity for some time without all the conversation pockets creating murky background chatter. Perhaps Charades, but without shouting over each other!

When it finally comes time for exchanging gifts, both planning ahead and advocation are still important. Especially if there are children involved, opening presents can be both the best and worst parts of the holidays. I find it’s helpful to request or pre-arrange with the host for everyone to take turns opening gifts instead of opening them all at once. It has the added benefit of making the present time feel longer and more suspenseful. If the children are the first to open gifts, then they can go off and enjoy their new toys while the adults continue with their own.

I will say that one of the things I enjoy about enduring the holiday season with a hearing loss is the fireworks for New Year’s Eve. We get to enjoy the show without the deafening explosions that accompany them. I find it quite ironic that the end of the loudest season of the year tries to beat out all the rest of the noise in volume, but it makes for a beautiful show and a satisfying reward to another December survived!