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5 tips for communicating at Thanksgiving with hearing loss

communicating with family at Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving holiday is always emotionally charged, especially when families come together but once a year.

After an absence of some time, there’s lots of news to share about comings and goings along with the inevitable chatter about the issues of the day. Trying to squeeze in as much as we can over the course of a few hours is difficult. For those of us with a hearing loss, holiday celebrations also bring their own unique set of challenges and concerns. Communicating with family at Thanksgiving can be made easier.

Because of my hearing loss, It took several years before I was fully comfortable celebrating Thanksgiving or any large holiday gathering with my family or friends. I often felt left out or frustrated by what transpired during the short time we spent together. Communicating with family at Thanksgiving wasn’t easy.

The key was eventually accepting who I was with and without my hearing loss. I’m still the same guy with my own tales to tell and am loved by those with whom I gather to celebrate. I now have a different way of communicating and responding but with no less intent or emotion. Making contact with those I love isn’t always about words. Hugs, kisses, smiles, and hearty handshakes communicate a lot of things too. I learned to let the day’s feelings, good or bad, wash over me so that I could stay connected even if I could not hear everything being said. Now I no longer assume that I am the only one who might not hear everything.

“The key was eventually accepting who I was with and without my hearing loss.”

Here are five tips to make your Thanksgiving more enjoyable.

1) Check with your host about the guest list

Determine who might not know about your hearing loss. Make it a point to connect with those people during the celebration. Tell them about your hearing loss and that you want to hear what they have to say. Ask them to get your attention when they want to communicate.

You can also go over the hearing loss “drill” we all use: “Please look at me, speak slowly, and forgive me if I ask you to repeat what you said.”

Have a laugh about it. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

2) Check your expectations, fears, and concerns at the door

The whole family is here and you want nothing more than to participate in it all. You already know that the day will not go perfectly and you may miss a lot of the news and conversation. That said, you can always get contact information for those with whom you wish to continue communicating. Emails, texts, and cell phones now afford us a variety of convenient and accessible ways to communicate – something else to be thankful for.

3) Double or single-sided deafness?

Location, location, location. Sit in the middle of the table and noise and try your best to hear what’s going on. Or seat yourself at a good angle to at least see everyone. If you can, have some family members who know how to communicate with you and who won’t place extraordinary demands on your hearing sit near you so you can have your own conversation circle.

4) Bring Your tools and toys so you can adjust to the noise

There are a number of things you can try. Use the noise reduction setting on your hearing aid. Place a Phonak Roger microphone in the middle of,  in another appropriate place on the table, or in the room so you can pick up more of the conversations. Use an app on your phone that can caption speech. Remember also to take a break – auditory fatigue is real. You can always step away when it gets to be too much.

5) Save the day for a family member with a hearing loss

Let them know you know that they are hard of hearing. If they need assistance, offer to help them communicate with others. You can be their translator; stand or sit near them to help with conversations. Make a point of spending some time chatting to make them feel part of the celebration.

Read more: What I’ve learned from living with hearing loss for 40 years

Perspective on Communicating With Family at Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving, a time to remember the many things for which you are grateful. Family members have gathered to celebrate together and you never know who won’t be with you next year. This wonderful day will include the bounty of the feast, fond and fun memories to share, and the best hearing technology there ever was to make this Thanksgiving a very special one.


Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”