Wearing masks with a hearing aid…

With COVID 19 safe practices, it is more and more common to encounter people with masks. Masks impact everyone but the impact is greater for people with a hearing loss.

Covering the mouth prevents the use of lip cues to help with communicating, particularly in a noisy area. The volume and clarity of speech are also reduced when the mouth is covered. A UK study has evaluated the effects mask have on sound transmission. It also found that some transparent masks can actually be worse than most material masks at sound transmission, thereby making it harder to communicate.  So, although they allow the mouth to be seen, they can be less helpful that traditional masks.

Recent research at the Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness surveyed 460 people to investigate the effects of mask on communication. The survey highlighted that feeling engaged, feeling connected and understanding others was greatly reduced with masks. People found interacting with masks to be stressful and would avoid communicating.

Another issue is the physical obstacle of wearing a mask. It can be uncomfortable with hearing aids, glasses, and mask. Devices can also feel less secure behind the ears when there is not a lot of space.

Here are 5 tips for wearing masks for people with a hearing loss:

  1. Let the person know you have a hearing loss.
  2. Reduce the background noise as much as possible or move to a quieter location.
  3. Ask the person to speak clearly and slowly.
  4. Find another way to communicate such as writing on paper, texting on
    the phone, or using a talk to text phone app.
  5. If you have hearing aids, be careful when removing your mask that
    you do not dislodge your hearing aids.
  6. Masks that tie at the back can help with comfort issues.

One way audiologists have tried to adapt to COVID 19 is to provide rehabilitation remotely.  A positive of this is that face coverings are not an issue when using video or phone connections.

It appears, at least for the immediate future, that masks are here to stay. Wearing masks can decrease a feeling of connectedness to others and can increase the difficulty in understanding speech. If we can be mindful that our loved ones with a hearing loss may be struggling, then we can be more patient and adapt to make communication less frustrating.

Catherine Kwok
Principal Audiologist
Shout Hearing Healthcare