Over 164.5 million people over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss around the world. That is over 33% of the above 65 population, and unfortunately, this age group is the most likely to suffer grave symptoms from COVID-19. So it stands to reason that we need to protect this community by whatever means possible, which is why many states have mandated the use of face masks in public spaces. 

The Difficulties of Communication

Unfortunately, face masks have had an unintended consequence of preventing/hindering the hearing loss community from being able to communicate well – something that is more vital now than ever before.

Patients currently in hospital, are often unable to hear, lip read, or read facial expressions of medical professionals wearing facemasks. In the UK, this very scenario inspired NHS anesthetist, Dr. Rachel Grimaldi, to design a series of digital flashcards (CARDMEDIC) to address these problems by transferring vital information to patients with hearing loss. 

Stifled Voices

Face masks and PPE equipment cover our mouths and stifle our voices, making it harder for people to hear and understand each other. Communication through protective equipment can be especially difficult for individuals with hearing loss. Even with hearing aids, understanding what someone is saying through a mask can be difficult. In a public setting where there is background noise, this task is even more difficult, if not impossible.

What About ASL?

Some may believe ASL could be a simple solution to the problem. However, a lot of signing relies on reading lips and facial expressions. Masks cover the mouth entirely, and PPE can block vital facial expressions. Because of social distancing measures, it is also not easy to lip-read or pass written notes from 6ft away! Not to mention, not everybody with hearing loss knows sign language. So, addressing the issue is more simple than one solution.

But there are technologies we can use to assist communication for people with a hearing loss. The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center has created a comprehensive list of tools to aid communication during this time to make life easier for all.

Make Things Easier

If you have hearing loss, wearing a face-covering may seem like a burden. But, there are ways you can make it a little easier.

For starters, always wear your hearing aid if you have one. Ask people to speak clearly and concisely, not too quiet but not too loud. Ask people to speak slightly slower than usual, so you do not miss keywords. 

If a person is not wearing a face shield/ mask with a transparent window, the forehead and eyebrows indicate expression, which can help you understand the gist of the conversation. – though not always easy to decipher without considerable practice in micro-expressions.

Other helpful communication tips include minimizing background noise, facing the person directly, writing things down, and using simple gestures. It is also paramount to avoid touching your mask or face at all times while engaging in conversations. Many of our patients have accidentally lost their hearing aids this way.

How We Can Help

If you or a loved one is struggling or you find yourself complaining that others are mumbling more often than not, it might be time to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. 

Our experienced team of audiologists will address any questions or concerns you may have about your hearing and any challenges you may face through this pandemic. 

We understand that safety is the number one concern, so check out updated safety protocol. And if you require further assistance, please call us at (509)-572-2444 to arrange a Sound Hearing Cloud or Curbside Appointment.

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Lori Losey Lovato MA, FAAA, Audiologist

Discover articles and resources written exclusively by Lori Losey Lovato - MA, FAAA. Lori believes in developing close relationships with each and every patient.