Tips for Handling the Holidays with Hearing Loss

Written By: Lisa A. Goldstein

Holidays with hearing loss were always painful for Shoshana Adelman.* She could never take part in the conversation around the table. She was taught not to interrupt anyone and instead to just sit and listen. If she didn’t understand, asking for repetition wasn’t always welcomed. In fact, she was often told to listen harder. Adelman says she never fit in and her family – wanting to treat her like everyone else — didn’t really make any efforts to help.

Adelman’s unfortunate experience doesn’t have to be yours, too. Here are some tips for how to handle the holidays with hearing loss.

Control Your Environment as Much as Possible

  • While hosting a party is a lot of work, it comes with benefits, too. You can automatically take charge of the environment. If a friend or family member is hosting, talk to him or her in advance.
  • Ask if background music can be kept off or at a low volume. The same goes for the television, though turning the captions on is a win-win. Ensure there’s enough lighting.
  • Help figure out an optimal seating arrangement. Be sure to sit by a supportive relative or friend who can fill you in as needed.
  • When it comes to conversations, do what Justin Christensen does. He initiates conversations and stays away from large group ones. He might also invite someone to chat in a quieter room. Michelle Nemetz sometimes even invites a friend to the gathering so she has someone to chat with and enjoys herself more.
  • In large gatherings, group conversations are rare. Regardless of whether you’re in a large conversation or smaller ones, self-advocacy is key. People might not know you’re having difficulty unless you tell them. If you have a hearing loss and can’t follow the conversation, use your self-advocacy skills! In my case, if I miss one detail, I just ask someone, “Who/What are we talking about?”
  • If you’re worried about missing out during gift opening time, simply ask the group to go one at a time. It’s more fun for everyone to watch all the action, and it draws out the fun – bonus!
  • Perhaps you’re lucky enough to receive more than one invitation to a gathering. Pick the one that will be more receptive to your needs. Gravitate towards the smaller group.
  • For those who have typical hearing, remember to accommodate requests for those who are self-advocating for their needs.

Volunteer to Help

  • If you’re feeling frustrated or not enjoying yourself, take a break. Volunteer to help clear the table, do the dishes, or anything else the host needs help with. You might end up having one-on-one conversations with another guest in addition to having something useful to do.

Use Technology

  • Be sure to wear your hearing devices, and remember your backup batteries! It’s the worst feeling when you realize your battery is about to die, and you left the replacement at home. That can affect your mood and ability to participate fully.
  • Use your smartphone apps to participate more fully in conversations (Remember to also charge your phone in advance!). Dr. Tilak Ratnanather suggests Google Live Transcribe, Otter, or Microsoft Translator with lavalier (clip-on) mics. “Even if you hear well, you could use this as a fall back for confirmation,” he says.
  • There are other options as well, such as Ava and Live Caption. Ava works by turning everyone’s smartphones into a microphone/live transcriber where you can view the transcript on your own device.

Final Tips

Remember, don’t be shy! Be upfront about your hearing loss and advocate for your needs. Speak up when you’re having difficulty. Be your own advocate. And if all else fails, enjoy the food and be thankful that you’re missing out on all the family political arguments!


Reference in this blog post to any specific product, process, or service is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind by Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.


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