As the pandemic continues, we’re facing an unknown climate as we head into the festive period. Whilst we attempt to solidify family plans and devise new ways of celebrating, the reality of a digital Christmas for some is certain, and something we need to prepare for – especially if you are deaf or hard of hearing.
How can deaf people prepare for the winter months?
Read on for Hearing Aid UK’s tips – from surviving the cold weather to dealing with noisy social gatherings and digital fatigue, and how to support deaf people at this time.
Gatherings might be small this Christmas, but they could still be loud!
Whilst family celebrations might be smaller this Christmas, if your family is anything like mine – it’s still bound to be a loud and action-packed affair!
For deaf people, any social occasion, no matter how big or small, can bring challenging situations from experiencing gaps in conversation to missing information and tricky background noise.
Here are some tips to help you hear your best this Christmas.
1. Wear a hearing aid
It may be simple, but good hearing always starts with remembering to wear your hearing aids and ensuring they are performing at their best. The hearing aids that are available today are more than just amplifiers: they filter out unwanted background noise; reduce distortion; focus on speech and what is important to you – ensuring you won’t miss anything this Christmas.
2. Avoid noisy areas
At Christmas, we generally spend most of our time at home and we’re often in the kitchen. This means loud noises from appliances, music systems and clinking tableware are a constant background noise, so we naturally talk louder to combat them, which creates a complex hearing environment for deaf people.
Try to avoid sitting or standing next to speakers or noisy appliances – find the quietest place in the room, so you get the best chance of understanding speech and can enjoy the moment, rather than struggling through the noise.
How to Support Deaf People During the Festive Period
During Christmas festivities, there are some things hearing people can do to be proactive in supporting deaf friends and family members. Here are some tips:
1. Minimise obstructions
Make sure that your face is always visible to those who rely on lip reading and visual cues. Consider removing big decorations from social areas like the dining table, so everyone’s face can be seen.
Some families designate a guest to ‘buddy-up’ with the deaf person, allowing them to repeat parts of the conversation when needed and make them feel more included (and more confident) in social gatherings.
2. Keep background noise down
Keeping background noise down will help deaf people distinguish sounds better during the festivities.
Christmas music and TV programmes can make conversations harder to hear, so it’s best to turn these off where possible. And, if you can leave washing the dishes until after dinner conversations and family games are finished, it will help deaf people focus their hearing in an already busy environment.
3. Access the accessories
Some deaf people benefit from using hearing aid accessories in their daily life, which can be extremely useful at social gatherings.
Hearing accessories, like a table microphone, can enhance the hearing experience for deaf people and those who wear hearing aids. A table microphone can be placed in the middle of the dining table to amplify the conversation and transmit directly to a hearing aid.
Tips for Dealing with the Cold Weather
Winter brings a shift in soundscape and temperature, as we embrace woolly knits colder weather. However, colder weather can also be detrimental to ear health and hearing aids. Here’s how to reduce some of the risks cold weather poses to deaf people:
Deaf people are three times more likely to suffer from a fall. During Winter, surfaces outside can be covered in snow and ice, so balance is compromised and increases the risk of a fall even more.
When you’re out and about, enjoy the beauty of the cold but be safe, take it easy and walk with caution. If you are venturing out in the evening, take a torch or take someone else who can support you.
During winter, our ears are colder and blood circulation lessens which increases the risk of infection and wax build-up.
To reduce this risk of infection, keep your ears warm and dry with hats or earmuffs – which are great for securing your hearing aids when you are out and about too.
Hearing Aid Maintenance
Although hearing aids are sturdy, they are susceptible to the cold elements of winter. Trapped moisture can damage the technology inside and reduce battery life. To avoid this, wear hats or earmuffs to keep your hearing aids dry.
If moisture build up occurs, shake your hearing aids to dispose of any excess water and then carefully wipe them dry with a paper towel.
If your hearing aids have batteries, take them out and keep the battery compartment door open. Leave them to air-dry and store them in a warm, dry place overnight.
You might want to invest in a hearing aid dehumidifier. Modern dehumidifiers are compact, easy to store and sometimes sterilise your hearing aids at the same time – leaving your devices perfectly clean and dry.
Since lockdown began, we’ve had to adapt the way they live, work and communicate. Many people are now working remotely and using digital tools to communicate with friends, family and colleagues, which can cause digital fatigue.
Digital fatigue can take many forms – from little twinges in your neck to twitching eyes or drooping of the skin, as constant screen time causes it to dehydrate.
Loss of sleep is another side-effect, as the blue light from screens that we expose our eyes to changes the way our cells react and how much of the ‘sleep’ hormone – melatonin – we produce. A lack of melatonin can reduce the quality and duration of sleep, making us feel exhausted and less able to focus.
For deaf people, wearing hearing aids can cause daily physical and mental fatigue, which can worsen during busy communication times, like Christmas, and with digital fatigue on top of this, it can be an extremely challenging time.
So, how can we overcome digital fatigue?
- Be screen aware:
Limit your screen time. Try setting an alarm for regular breaks and get as much fresh air as you can. Thirty minutes of exercise a day can help you stretch, re-engage your muscles, and increase lymph flow. Most importantly, exercise helps you relax, de-stress and escape from the digital world.
- Be skin aware:
Try using skincare that includes antioxidants, or anti-pollutants, which naturally removes impurities and help hydrate the skin and lowers the risk of drooping.
- Be sleep aware:
Prioritise your sleep and ensure you have some time away from screens before bed.
- Be ear aware:
As most of us continue to work remotely, and use digital conferencing technology like Skype or Zoom and Skype, remember to support deaf people as speech and visual cues are compromised.
Here’s some tips for deaf people using digital meeting tools:
- Utilise accessibility features like captions and speech-to-text apps
- Make sure anyone talking is well lit and easily visible
- Ask your colleagues to take notes and email them after the meeting in case you miss anything
- Make time for breaks and unplug to allow you to rest and lower your chances of digital fatigue
Tips for colleagues of deaf people who are sharing a digital meeting:
- Make sure you have good lighting, and your face is well-lit and easy to lipread
- Turn on captions if available
- Don’t cover your mouth while you speak
- Ensure one person speaks at a time so the conversation is easier to follow and captions are more accurate
- Mute your microphone when you are not talking to reduce the potential background noise
- Use the chat functions to list any important information or agendas
- Try to keep conversation in context
Got any other cold weather tips? Or tips for deaf people during the festive period? Let us know!
This article was written Paul Harrison, founder of Hearing Aid UK.
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