Hearing Loss Tips: Communicating with People Wearing a Mask

COVID-19 has changed many elements of our daily lives. As more states move to ease their lock-down restrictions, new norms are being introduced. These are intended to help stem the spread of the virus and keep us safe. Two measures most of us are familiar with are social distancing and wearing a face mask.

As the Coronavirus has spread around the globe, our understanding of the virus continues to grow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”)...  even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.”

This led to the CDC advising people to wear face masks. Particularly in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).” (Source)

Face Masks and Hearing Loss: The Challenges

While face masks can help keep us safe, they also present unique challenges. For the millions of Americans with a hearing impairment, masks can complicate communication. These include: 

Unable to Lip Read

Lipreading can be an important communication tool for people with hearing loss. Speech can be better understood by reading lips. Facial expressions also play an important role in communication.

A mask restricts lip reading and obscures facial expressions. This can present difficulties for people with hearing loss. People with hearing difficulties have to focus more closely to listen. The added strain on your brain can lead to cognitive overload.

Masks Block Sounds

Not only does a face mask block visual cues, they can block sounds. Muffling speech can make hearing correctly very challenging.

Promisingly, research is showing that this difficulty drops in transparent masks.

Social Distancing

Keeping a distance of at least 6 feet is intended to reduce the transmission of the Coronavirus. By maintaining distance, we should be able to reduce community transmission.

While distance can help our health, it doesn’t help our hearing. Additional distance, particularly in noisy areas, both present challenges. For those wearing a hearing aid device, they may notice their device is less sensitive at a distance.

Communicating with People Wearing a Mask

If you have a hearing loss, these tips can help you communicate with people wearing a mask.

Use Transparent Masks

Where possible, use a transparent mask. You can also request that others use transparent masks. Studies have shown how clear masks can reduce communication difficulties.

Unfortunately, transparent masks are expensive. While this is the ideal solution, it may not always be feasible.

Maintain Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact (from a safe distance) can keep you focused on the communication. In turn, this can help you understand more of what’s being said.

Bring Out The Tried and Trusted Back-ups

The good old pen and paper can be a great tool during this pandemic. If you are really struggling to hear what is being said, you can always ask someone to jot down what they are trying to say.

In turn, you can write out notes in advance. Do you have a prescription to collect? Write out a note with your details, and hand it to the pharmacist.

Use Assistive Technology

Speech-to-text applications, such as Google Keyboard, can further your speech understanding.

While maintaining a safe distance, hold your phone towards the person speaking. You may want to practice at home first.

Reduce Background Noise

Background noise makes communication difficult in the best of times. However, when compounded with social distancing and face masks, it can be a really big problem.

Where possible, communicate in quiet areas. Try to find somewhere where you will be uninterrupted, and with as minimal distractions as possible.

Hearing Devices and Face Masks

If you wear a hearing aid device, make sure you are careful when removing your masks. More people are reportedly losing their hearing aids due to wearing masks.

The straps on the sides can become tangled in your hearing aid device. This can cause your hearing aid device to fly off when you remove your mask.

To help keep your hearing aid device safe, we advise removing your mask at home. This way, even if your hearing aid falls out, it is in the safety of your home.

The Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) helpfully hosted a webinar with more tricks to safely remove your facemask with a hearing device. Watch the replay here.

Have a Question? Need Help? Contact Us Today!

If you’d like to discuss this further, or explore hearing aids that could be an option for you, the hearing specialists at HearingLife (formerly Family Audiology) would be happy to help. Please get in touch via our website by clicking here. We’ll be in touch when we can invite you in for an appointment.

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