Face masks & hearing loss: Practical tips for communicating in a masked world
This year has brought many new challenges and changes to the way we live our lives. One of the most visible differences is the now common use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as face masks in everyday life. From the doctor’s office, to the grocery store, people are wearing face masks more than ever to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. While the use of PPE is a vital tool to keep our communities safe, it has made communicating for people with hearing loss a lot more difficult.
Face masks and hearing loss
Having a conversation from six feet apart and while wearing a face mask can be difficult for even the best hearing people. For someone with any degree of hearing loss, it can be extremely debilitating and isolating. On top of the muffled sounds, face masks also hide any facial expressions or lip movements that are crucial aspects of understanding for many people with a hearing loss.
Many people with hearing aids or cochlear implants heavily rely on lip reading to better understand what is being said. Not being able to rely on such visual tools has become a major problem for individuals with hearing loss, especially in terms of receiving proper treatment and care from their health care providers.
Practical tips and solutions
So how can we protect communication and understanding for people with hearing loss in this new masked world?
There are ongoing efforts to make communicating with PPE more accessible for people with hearing loss. Many companies and even individuals have started producing face masks with clear mouth coverings to allow for lip-reading, including two students from Western University.
While we wait for these innovations to become more widely available, there are several strategies and solutions we can use right now to make communicating with face masks more manageable.
We’ve rounded up a list of easy to implement techniques and tips to help make communicating with PPE as easy as possible.
1. Basic communication strategies
When speaking with someone who has hearing loss while wearing a face mask, there are some easy techniques you can use to maximize their ability to understand such as:
- Face the person you are speaking to, get the person’s attention before speaking and routinely check that the person understands you
- Use body language and hand gestures to add more context to your speech
- Speak slowly and enunciate your words
2. Make your hearing loss known
There’s no time to be shy about your hearing loss these days. According to the WHO, 1.33 billion people across the world have hearing loss, so when it comes to telling people about your hearing loss, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Now more than ever it’s important to make the people you are speaking with aware of your hearing loss so that they can adjust their actions accordingly.
Don’t hesitate to ask someone to move to a quieter location, or ask them to speak more slowly or louder without shouting.
3. Choose virtual communication options
Virtual communication has become increasingly popular as we’ve moved towards a socially distant lifestyle. Many services are offering virtual options such as doctor’s appointments, workout classes, and well as getting your hearing aids fit with our Virtual Care Program. If you rely on lip-reading, opting for video calls or virtual appointments is a good option to help you preserve your ability to understand speech.
4. Hearing technology solutions
Many technology options can help mitigate the communication barriers that PPE poses on those with hearing loss.
- Hearing aids: Hearing aids have been helping those with hearing loss understand and participate in conversation for decades. There are hearing technology solutions designed for all degrees of hearing loss. For someone with mild hearing loss, they may have been able to get by pre-COVID but as face masks become more common, their hearing loss has become more noticeable. There’s never been a better time to start dealing with your hearing loss. With modern technology features such as Bluetooth connectivity and 360-degree microphones, today’s hearing aids can account for those PPE specific challenges such as background noise and muffled speech
- Hearing accessories: Hearing aid accessories such as the Roger Select or the Phonak PartnerMic are great options for hearing aid wearers who need a little extra help hearing in difficult listening environments. These devices can amplify the muffled sound coming from someone speaking from a further distance (think six feet) and wearing a face mask. With the Roger Select, you can clip this discreet microphone directly on your family member, friend, or even your doctor, to make their speech more clear and easily understood through a face mask. Visit connecthearing.ca/hearing-accessories to see all of the great hearing accessories that can assist hearing aid wearers in difficult listening environments.
- Speech-to-text apps: There are many apps available for your smartphone that can transcribe someone’s speech into text on your phone in real-time.
Now is a great time to take care of your hearing. Take action today!
Research shows that people will wait up to 7 years before they decide to do something about their hearing loss. In today’s masked and socially distant world, it’s as important as ever to be able to communicate, understand and connect with those around you. There’s no need to keep struggling to understand conversations. Our hearing care professionals are here to help you find a hearing solution that works for you.
To set up an appointment to speak about your hearing health, book an appointment at your local Connect Hearing clinic today! Call 1-888-850-9979 or visit connecthearing.ca.