Among the wide range of inconveniences and challenges caused by the pandemic are the various facemask mandates made by regulating authorities. Because the consequences of non-compliance are greater restrictions or steep fines, the majority of individuals have submitted to wearing facemasks, which create a particular set of challenges to people with hearing loss. To help ease communication issues, I hope to raise greater awareness in Southwest Louisiana of the challenges brought on by the pandemic along with solutions for individuals with hearing loss.
Coming to Terms with Hearing Loss Challenges
Approximately 1.33 billion people endure some form of hearing loss worldwide. The consequences of hearing loss reach beyond problems with communication bringing on additional problems like depression and anxiety, isolation and reduced social interaction, and an increased risk of dementia as well as reduced independence and quality of life, putting strains on families and relationships. Facemasks exacerbate these issues by interrupting and discouraging communication.
Absence of Non-Verbal Cues
A significant part of communicating with each other includes non-verbal cues, which come from facial expressions focused around the lips and mouth. Individuals with hearing loss tend to watch those expressions to decipher some of what a speaker is saying. Those with severe hearing loss or deafness also rely on being able to see the mouth to read lips. By covering up the area with a facemask, those who are dependent on these non-verbal cues are virtually cut-off from clear communication.
The process of hearing relies upon the flow of sound waves coming from the speaker’s mouth, traveling through the air, and entering the ear canal for processing through the hearing pathway where the brain recognizes them. Impediments along that pathway severely limit the quality and clarity of the sounds. Facemasks make it difficult for those with hearing impairment to distinguish between various consonants, losing words, phrases, or sentences during a conversation.
Ongoing Solutions During the Pandemic
Because of the quality of sound, along with eliminating non-verbal cues, are a consequence of wearing facemasks, the pandemic has created some significant challenges for those with hearing loss. Communication with those with hearing loss is critical, and we must make a conscious effort to produce viable ongoing solutions to meet these challenges as facemask mandates during the pandemic continue.
Bringing Back Visual Cues
Innovators from Main dans la Main (Hand in Hand) of Chevrières, France, an organization that supports deaf and hard of hearing people, have created a new facemask with a transparent screen over the mouth and lips. This type of facemask is especially useful for communicating with members of the deaf community who rely on lip-reading as a primary form of communication, but also has the potential to aid communication for individuals who work with the elderly. Along with helping facilitate speech, this visual mask allows others to see our smile, something that is very important during this difficult time.
Communication Tools and Apps
Restoring visual cues contributes a great deal to communication, but does not eliminate the issue of muffled sound. Fortunately, there are various communication tools and smartphone apps that include voice amplification and text to speech available to overcome this challenge.
Greater Awareness of Communication Issues
Where visual masks and smartphone apps are absent, we need to have a greater awareness of the surrounding environment when we speak, being conscious of background noise as well as focus on slowing down and speaking up during conversations.
Acadian Hearing Understands Your Frustration
As facemask wearing becomes the “new normal,” continuing to communicate as we have in the past will further isolate individuals with hearing loss.
Greater awareness of the challenges and communication solutions available is essential. The team and I at Acadian Hearing understand your frustration.
It is our objective to help to improve communication for the hard of hearing. If you or a loved one is struggling during this time, contact us to learn more about various tips and tools or schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. Our new safety protocols are firmly in place to keep you, other patients, and our staff safe during these times.
Our Access Audiology service is also available for anyone who cannot make it to our office.