Walking home from our first post-Covid social event, I said to my husband, “Well, that was fun, but exhausting.” He agreed, “We are out of practice socializing with people we don’t know.” “Yes,” I replied, “and I am out of practice trying to hear them!”
My head was still spinning from the mental effort it took to focus on the voices and block out the background buzz of the party. And this one was out of doors! Imagine the challenge once the weather turns colder and socializing moves back into reverberant indoor spaces. I better start training my brain today.
Socializing Tips for People with Hearing Loss
As the world emerges from its pandemic bubble, the training begins for people with hearing loss. We must recall how to narrow our focus to the speaker directly in front of us and ignore the drone of background conversation. And relearn how to pace ourselves to combat hearing loss exhaustion.
Here are some tips for socializing with hearing loss.
1. Arrive early and well rested
Arriving early will help you get a lay of the land and identify the most hearing-friendly locations in the space. This may be a quiet corner in a carpeted area or a remote spot away from the music. It also provides an opportunity to request that your host switch your seat at the table or lower the music in one area of the space.
Arrive with energy since it will certainly be required for communication. If the party is at the end of the day, try to schedule some down time in between events as a respite for your brain.
2. Take breaks to recharge your batteries
Hearing in noise takes concentration and brain power. As we rebuild our stamina — and even when it returns — remember to take breaks in the action to restore energy. Slip away to the kitchen or outside for a quick walk to give your eyes and brain a rest from lipreading and other communication enhancement activities.
3. Advocate for your needs
We may be used to asking for captions on Zoom calls, but we are probably out of practice in asking people to use communication best practices when speaking with us in person. And people may be rusty themselves coming out of their Covid cocoon!
Ask people to face you when they speak to you and to keep their mouths uncovered so it easier for you to use speechreading cues. Ask people to speak one at a time, which can be challenging in the overlapping conversation pattern of a cocktail party. It won’t be perfect at first but asking will get easier with time.
4. Leverage technology
Some hearing aids have special programs for loud spaces, but they are not always effective. If you need additional assistance, try a remote microphone like a Roger Pen to home in on the voice of your conversation partner. Or use a speech-to-text app like Google’s Live Transcribe or Otter.ai to help you fill in the gaps of what you miss.
You can also always try a non-technical hand-behind-the-ear to let people know they need to speak louder for you to hear them.
5. Set realistic expectations
Forgive yourself if you are struggling — everyone else is facing challenges getting out of their pandemic bubbles too. Laugh at the mis-hearings and pace yourself. It will take some time to rebuild your cocktail party skills. In the meantime, enjoy the ambiance and the feeling of other people’s company. It is something we will not soon take for granted.
Cocktail parties will never be easy for people with hearing loss, but armed with the tips above, I am eager to get back out there and try again.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.