Wearing a mask while out in public has become a "new normal." What does this mean for people who have hearing loss and rely on visual/facial cues to successfully communicate?
Let's first look at options for those with untreated hearing loss. If you or someone you know has untreated hearing loss, they may be struggling now more than ever to communicate with others while wearing a mask. All hope is not lost! There are several things you can do to help improve communication while continuing to wear a mask and social distance, as recommended by public health officials.
Schedule an appointment with your local audiologist to have your hearing tested. Your audiologist will be able to assess your hearing health and recommend hearing treatment options appropriate for your communication needs.
If you decide to continue without professional hearing treatment, consider at-home ear training (prescribed by your audiologist) to help your brain better recognize speech cues for improved communication while in difficult listening situations.
Consider alternative communication assistance techniques including requesting written messages or using phone transcription apps to help visualize and read what is being said. Having someone simply talk louder may not be enough to help you understand what is being said.
What if you have hearing loss, currently wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, AND are experiencing difficulty communicating with others wearing a mask?
While hearing aids and cochlear implants typically improve communication abilities significantly, they do not restore hearing to a perfect level. There is more to the communication puzzle than simply wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants. Utilizing various communication strategies in specific settings could make a world of a difference. Here are a few communication strategies to consider while trying to communicate with others wearing a mask.
Make sure you are facing the person you are trying to communicate with. If someone is wearing a mask AND trying to talk to you while facing the opposite direction, that could be double trouble. Directly facing the person you are trying to communicate with typically helps to allow the use of facial cues to improve understanding. While this benefit will not be in play as much while masks are worn, there is still a huge benefit to having someone face you while talking. Their volume level will be much better if they are talking directly to you versus facing a different direction.
Ask your audiologist if a "mask" hearing aid program would be right for you. A specific program for your hearing aids could be crafted to target the communication goal of communicating better with individuals wearing a face covering. Your specific hearing loss plays a big role in what your audiologist might recommend. It is important to note that some hearing losses would not benefit from this recommendation.
Consider using a remote microphone. This can be extremely helpful when in loud noise environments such as busy grocery stores or restaurants. A remote microphone can be placed near the person you are trying to talk to and their voice will go directly to your hearing aids. Remote microphones are great assistive devices to use while allowing you to maintain social distancing recommendations. No need to have strangers get really close to you to communicate effectively. Simply place your remote microphone near them then stand at a distance while communicating.
Before we conclude, we cannot neglect to mention the importance of paying extra attention when removing a face covering while wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants. Depending on the style of hearing device you currently wear, it may become entangled with your mask. Extra caution should be taken to ensure that your hearing device remains on your ear while removing your face covering. We recommend performing a hearing device check each and every time you remove your face covering. Simply reach up to your ears and touch each hearing device on your ear to verify that it is still in place. That way, if it has fallen off, you will be able to simply look around near you to find it. Also, taking a few extra seconds to slow down and remove your face covering carefully could save you the headache of trying to hunt down or replace a lost hearing aid.
COVID-19 has affected countless people around the world in many different ways. If you have hearing loss, you may be presented with new and unique communication challenges. Thankfully, there are things we can do to help.
Please continue to follow recommendations from public health officials including wearing a mask while in public and social distancing. We will get through this together. #bettertogether #HoustonStrong
Space City Audiology
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Call or text: 281-809-6008