With no end to the Covid-19 pandemic in sight, many public places are requiring patrons to wear face masks. Facemasks are our new normal, and none of us are that thrilled about wearing them, but you might find them especially challenging if you are one of the millions of people wearing hearing aids.
The use of face masks poses distinctive challenges for hearing aid wearers, such as:
- The inability to read lips. This makes communication more difficult by preventing lip-reading, which is a crucial visual cue. This increases the mental effort required to understand others, especially in noisy environments.
- Not being able to see facial expressions. Seeing someone's facial expression plays a huge part in understanding a conversation. Most of what we're communicating is through non-verbal signs. These signs are an essential part of communication for people with hearing loss. Face masks make it more challenging to see these visual signals.
Mask wearing mandates usually also recommended we maintain a social distance with others while using face masks. For persons with hearing loss, this poses another problem. Range, particularly in noisier settings, makes hearing more difficult.
Communication issues aren't the only thing to consider. When you take off your mask, the ear loops on a mask could pull on your hearing aids. This might cause your hearing aid to fall to the ground, which could lead to some damage.
Here are some things you can do to make it easier to connect with others while wearing both hearing aids and a mask at the same time.
First, get the right mask.
You can have trouble fitting a protective mask over your ears if you wear behind-the-ear (BTE) type hearing aids. You also run the risk of unintentionally dislodging your hearing aids by doing so. For this reason, we believe that the best face mask for hearing aid wearers is the kind that is tied around the back of the head.
Using clips to protect your hearing aid is another option to consider. For instance, you could protect a hearing aid by using eyeglass straps to secure it in place. Adhesives, like tape or other commercially available items to cover hearing aids, can also be used.
Be careful when removing your mask.
To stop yanking out the hearing aids and damaging them, stop removing your face mask when in a rush. If your hearing aids are compatible with a smartphone, you may want to connect them to a phone app that helps you locate the hearing aids' location in case they slip off and get lost. You should also check that the hearing aids are still in place after you remove your mask.
Request that communication partners wear clear face masks.
When you can see the mouth of the person you're talking to, you'll find it much easier to understand them as you will be able to read their lips. Whether you are chatting to the store clerk or catching up with an old friend, being able to catch their smiles, grimaces, or other facial expressions is essential. That's why you should encourage (or even better, provide) transparent face masks for those you converse with regularly.
Choose a quiet environment when starting a sustained conversation.
From the chatter of surrounding customers to the tannoy’s crackled tone, maintaining a conversation in a busy store at peak business hours can be challenging. To make it easier to carry out your conversation, ask your partner if they would like to talk in a quieter setting, if possible.
Don't forget the fundamentals of effective communication.
If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, you know that talking under everyday situations can be challenging. If both people are wearing masks in the conversation, that adds a new challenge to the mix.
Here are a few things to consider to help improve your chances of effective communication:
- Speak clearly and slowly enough for others to understand. Your partner will be likely to do the same.
- Have your hearing aids on the optimal settings for your environment.
- Don't be afraid to ask others to repeat themselves if you didn't hear them the first time around.
- Face each other and take turns while talking.
Consider upgrading your hearing aid.
Although this is no doubt the most expensive option, if you have had the same pair of hearing aids for over three years, there is a good chance that newer technology exists which could help you communicate better while masking up. It's also possible that your hearing needs may have changed, and you would benefit from another hearing test and reprogramming of your hearing prescription.
Talk to us if you would like to know more about the new technologies and models available to you.