Hearing Loss and face Masks are a difficult combination.
The mask physically blocks the speech sounds.
According to a medical study highlighted in Hearing Review, medical masks act as a low-pass acoustic filter for speech, weakening the high frequencies spoken by the wearer by up to 12 dB depending on the type of mask. The study concludes, “The speech quality degradation, in combination with room noise/reverberation and the absence of visual cues, renders speech close to unintelligible for many patients with hearing loss.”
Lipreading cues are absent.
Like many people with hearing loss, I am usually speechreading while I listen. The lipreading cues help me better understand speech, while the facial expressions help me to find the emotion behind the words. With a mask, neither of these clues are available making it more taxing to organize the sounds into a meaningful word or phrase. This can lead to hearing loss exhaustion from the increased listening effort.
The 6-feet apart rule compounds the issue.
Along with wearing masks, people have been asked to physically distance from one another by staying home as much as possible and by maintaining a six foot distance from others when in public spaces. This rules helps reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus from one person to another, but it also makes it more difficult to hear since most hearing devices work best when they are within six feet of the source of the sound.
Tips For Communicating With People Wearing Masks
When you talk to someone with a face mask most people have difficulty understanding each other. Now, add a hearing loss and it may become impossible to understand.
With a hearing loss, understanding speech does not come naturally. It takes effort. The clues we get from lip movements and facial expressions are almost as important as the sounds that are amplified by our hearing Aids. We must look as well as listen in order to fully understand. Masks, while necessary and important for public health, make this process much more challenging.
Supplement with speech-to-text apps
If you have a speech-to-text apps like Live Transcribe (Android only) You can hold your phone as close to the person as possible while maintaining physical distance. The closer the microphone is to the person speaking, the better chance it will have to pick up the sound. Practice at home so you are not fumbling with the app in real time.
Use paper and pen if necessary
You can use them to prepare signs in advance with your name and what you need to say. For example, if you are picking something up at the pharmacy, include your name, what you are picking up, and that you have trouble hearing so they know to communicate with you carefully.