In spite of the fact that more and more people are getting vaccinated for COVID-19 every day, it looks like masking and social distancing will be with us for some time in order to safely return to normal activities at some point.
For those with hearing loss, even for those without hearing loss, wearing a mask can make it difficult to communicate. Why?
Masks, especially medical grade masks like N95s, or wearing two masks worn together, can muffle sound significantly. That makes it hard for everyone to understand speech, especially those with higher-pitched voices.
Traditional masks cover the mouth and much of the face, making it hard to read lips and facial expressions. Being able to see someone’s whole face makes it much easier for someone to understand what they are saying.
If someone has a soft voice or difficulty talking, that can compound communication problems when wearing a mask.
Masks can be uncomfortable for people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants. During the pandemic, we’ve seen many patients who have had difficulties with the ear loops on their masks, catching their hearing aids and pulling them off when they remove the mask. Some have even lost their hearing aids.
Instead of looping the mask over your ears, we recommend you use a button extender or mask extender for the mask to attach it behind your head. Associated Audiologist has these available as a courtesy to our patients, if needed. You can even use an open paper clip to attach the loops behind your head. If you wear a traditional mask with no extender, be sure you remove your mask in a safe place so if you do pull your hearing aids off, you can easily find them. You also might try a mask that has four string ties instead of ear loops.
There are different types of masks that can help people communicate easier, such as masks with clear face panels, face shields made of clear plastic and clear plexiglass barriers.
The other barrier that has become common during the pandemic is physical distancing. The Centers for Disease Control recommends people stay at least six feet apart, which creates a communication challenge.
Distance compounds problems hearing because it’s harder to hear the further you are from the sound source, and with a mask covering your communication partner’s face, it can be hard to read visual cues.
If you’ve experienced problems hearing because of social distancing, be sure you have your communication partner’s attention before you begin your conversation, and that nothing is between the two of you.
Make it a point to talk in a quieter place, speaking slower and louder. Ask your partner if they can hear or understand you as you talk, and don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat something.
Despite all the communication challenges the pandemic has brought to light, there are good solutions to help individuals improve their hearing, including Bluetooth-equipped hearing aids, and assistive listening devices.
One such assistive listening device is Roger FM, a state-of-the-art wireless microphone that can help boost hearing aid performance and bridge the understanding gap. It is helpful for all, but especially for those with poor speech clarity, a greater degree of hearing loss, or anyone who needs to hear well from a distance.
- Improves the volume of the speaker over the competing noise.
- An option available for most existing hearing aid users as an added accessory with your current hearing aids.
- Demonstration and demo technology are available by appointment.
Talk with a doctoral-level audiologist about the latest hearing aid technology options so that you can hear your best.