Loved Ones with Hearing Loss Are Discovered During the Holidays

It’s that time of year when again we see a fully decorated Christmas tree for sale at Costco and think, “Oh, the absurdity, it’s only October.” And then, what seems like only ten minutes later, we’re scrambling for parking spaces at the mall and last minute stocking stuffers. Indeed, the next two months fly by faster than any other two months of the calendar. And interestingly, the themes of holidays and hearing loss happen to be entwined. So, as we prepare for this time of year, we’d like to give you some food (no, not turkey) for thought.

Did you know it’s during the holiday season when we are most apt to notice that our loved ones are experiencing hearing loss? Steady hearing loss is akin to a growing child in your own household whose slow ascent to adulthood height you don’t notice on a daily basis. But during the holidays, we socialize with family members and friends we may not see on a regular basis. So, let’s say you were vaguely aware that Aunt Mildred was having trouble hearing at Christmas dinner two years ago. Perhaps the first year, you attributed it to all of the noise and bluster, and in the next year, you thought she may be a bit depressed and willfully disengaged. But in year three, when she doesn’t respond at all when you ask her to pass the gravy…well, now it’s something that needs to be addressed. The decline in her hearing was gradual for her, but the realization for you feels sudden.

And speaking of depression, for someone who can’t control his or her overwhelming feelings of sadness, all of that holiday cheer blasted at them from every angle and at every moment can have an adverse affect and lead to an increase in depression symptoms. If hearing loss and depression go hand in hand, and depression and holidays go hand in hand, expect hearing loss awareness around the holidays to have an extra profound affect on the emotional well-being of those affected.

How do you address the issue, about which so many are sensitive? Here are some suggestions…

1. If you suspect or know that the person experiencing hearing loss is also suffering from depression, it might be prudent to wait until after the holiday season to address your concerns. If the hearing loss is slow and steady over a few years, another three weeks won’t have a huge medical impact. But don’t wait too long—hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression, and therefore, does need to be addressed.

2. Open the discussion casually and make screening a family activity, even if it must seem staged. Encourage everyone to participate, even the children. Here is a link to an online hearing test we think is quite fun (although we cannot speak to the scientific validity of it, but alas, you’re just trying to open the discussion casually with your loved ones): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxcbppCX6Rk&feature=youtu.be

And here is another that takes on more of the form of a survey… http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss/online_hearing_test/

3. Make hearing health a theme of the holidays—give everyone ear plugs as stocking stuffers or ask everyone to commit to hearing health as a New Year’s Resolution. In fact, you know from our past blog posts that children and teens should be having their hearing tested regularly anyway, even if just to establish a baseline.

However you decide to approach the topic of hearing loss in your family this year, be sure not to appear as if you are “ganging up” on the person who may be affected. Hearing loss can be accompanied by significant denial and sadness. For many, admitting hearing loss is admitting getting old, and that is daunting. But for every crisis there is an opportunity. If you can address a hearing problem this Christmas, it will certainly make the following holidays far brighter. The reason for the holiday season is to connect with our families and loved ones. Communication is a huge part of that connection, and one cannot communicate well if they cannot hear.

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