While face masks can help protect a person – and help protect others – from Coronavirus, they do present a problem for those who are living with hearing loss. Sixty million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, ranging from mild trouble to severe loss or deafness in one or both ears.
Visual cues, such as reading lips, helps those with hearing loss understand speech; wearing a mask can put a stop to this, as well as muffling a person’s speech, thus rendering someone with hearing loss unable to understand a person who is speaking. (Standing six feet apart can also add to these difficulties.)
Tricia Nechodom, AuD, PASC, an audiologist with Trinity Health, has been following this issue. “It is a concern, and it makes sense,” she said.
One of the best things that can be done to assist is to reduce background noise, Nechodom said. In the Audiology clinic, located at Health Center – West, they “always close the door to ensure patient safety and privacy, but we are also closing off noise from the rest of the clinic.”
Another way to assist is to maintain eye contact. “There is a lot of information in our eyes and facial movements,” Nechodom said, adding this will also help keep the person focused on the listener.
While exercising social distancing guidelines – being six feet apart – it is important to get as close as possible when conversing, she said. “The farther we get away from someone, the quieter a person’s voice gets.” Additionally, a lot of people try to talk louder and project. “Some of the best things we can do is to slow down and use clear speech and not try to unnaturally project our voices.”
Nechodom also recommended speech-to-tech apps available through Smartphones or tablets, where a person can use the app to capture speech, which is then dictated back in text. Zoom meetings and other platforms of video conferencing also have the capabilities of enabling closed captioning.
“I’m a big proponent of asking people what’s best for them,” Nechodom said, noting that asking “How can I best communicate with you?” can help determine which method works best.
For people with hearing loss, wear your hearing aids and do not bluff and nod to pretend you understood something if you did not, she said. Rather, ask the person to repeat or rephrase what was said and work at listening.