Don’t mask your meaning during Covid-19


Face masks and social distancing can make communication challenging for those with hearing loss
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What with social distancing and face masks, many people with hearing loss have found communicating during the pandemic to be a real challenge. Two guides have been launched to provide best practice communication tips and advice in this context, whether within a workplace or healthcare setting, as Dr Lindsey Banks explains.

An ongoing challenge for healthcare professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic has been how to communicate effectively and sympathetically while wearing a face mask or covering to those who have hearing loss.

About the author

Dr Lindsey Banks is an audiologist with Clear Living

At Clear Living we have launched two visual guides featuring tips and guidance designed to facilitate better communication for those with hearing loss amidst mask-wearing and social distancing regulations.

Those with hearing difficulties often rely on lip-reading and increased speaking volume to understand others properly – both of which are unfortunately impeded by face masks/coverings and social distancing rules.

While some solutions have been developed, such as clear face masks, these are not nearly widespread enough to aid the hearing loss and deaf community with this issue.

Hearing challenges with social distancing

Hearing over a distance via social distancing, a lack of lip-reading cues because of masks, and a degradation of speech volume because of plastic barriers in front of counters or windows have all added extra challenges to communication during the pandemic.

These modifications, while of course essential in terms of controlling the spread of coronavirus, have made people with hearing loss really struggle in their everyday communication environments.

Instilling confidence in communication

The guides are aimed both at those with hearing loss and those wearing face masks and communicating with people who are hearing impaired. In truth, none of this is rocket science; most of these tips are self-evident when you think about them.

But we’d argue this advice is nevertheless potentially valuable. For example, although advice such as wearing a hearing aid may seem obvious, research has shown that up to 20% of hearing aids users don’t wear them.

Many face masks are also worn by looping around the ear – which can affect a hearing aid when worn. Our guide therefore offers practical solutions, such as using masking tape to secure a hearing aid in place as well as using tie up masks and/or mask tie extenders to avoid any strain on it.

From a workplace health perspective, we’d also argue this guidance is potentially valuable for occupational health practitioners to be communicating to employers, who can then pass it down to managers and, in turn, feed it down the line to employees who are maybe dealing with the public.

Just giving employees greater confidence in understanding the sorts of issues people who are hard of hearing may be facing at the moment, what to do, and what can help, is a positive step in the right direction.

These tips can also of course be valuable in a healthcare setting when dealing with a patient who has hearing loss.

Conclusions

So, to sum up, when talking to people with hearing loss:

  • Let the person know you’ve started talking to them – say their name to start a conversation, catch their eye or pass them a note.
  • Write down anything that needs further clarification.
  • If possible, move somewhere quieter to talk.

For the person with hearing loss:

  • Ensure any hearing aid is worn and working properly/clean – 20% of people with hearing aids don’t wear them.
  • Ensure hearing aid batteries are charged.
  • When wearing a mask, secure your hearing aid with wig/masking tape or a headband so it’s not affected.
  • Use a tie-up mask rather than one with ear loops.
  • Use an extender for your mask to tie it around the back of your head rather than around your ears.

If you are wearing a mask and speaking to a person who has hearing loss:

  • Speak loudly and clearly.
  • If possible, move the conversation to a place with not a lot of surrounding noise – away from cars and other people.
  • Ask if they have a preference for how to talk or communicate.
  • Make sure they get all the important points you’re trying to tell them – write down to ensure they do. This can be done on a mobile phone.
  • Use body language and hands to help communicate – point at things, gesture, use thumbs up or down to confirm.
  • Use synonyms or reword sentences they can’t understand

References
‘20% of people with hearing aids do not use them”, Manchester University, June 2020, https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/20-of-people-with-hearing-aids-do-not-use-them/

“Helping those with hearing loss during COVID-19”, Clear Living, https://www.clearliving.com/hearing-loss/helping-hearing-loss-covid-19/



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