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A Tricky Combination: Face Masks and Hearing Loss

May 21, 2020  · 2 min read

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect millions of people around the world, issues in other sectors that may at first seem unrelated surface. One example is the interplay between hearing loss and face masks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many global leaders encourage individuals to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus, however for people with hearing loss, this may present several additional challenges and barriers.

In a recent Healthy Hearing article, Managing Editor Joy Victory explains that face masks may muffle the voice of the individual wearing the mask, and also prevent the ability for an individual with hearing loss to read facial expressions or lip read – making communication near impossible. This is especially true when face masks are used in medical settings such as hospitals, where loud background noise is common. These barriers to communication may result in frustration from both the person with hearing loss and the health care professional.  

There are several steps that health care providers can take to improve communication in medical settings, including: ask how the patient prefers to communicate; speak slowly and clearly; avoid shouting; rephrase remarks if not understood; reduce the noise in the room; and if possible, use a clear plastic mask to make lip reading easier.

The second challenge people with hearing loss endure in relation to face masks is for those who wear hearing aids. When wearing a face mask, the ear loops may tug at or pull out the hearing aid, especially when removing the face mask. Some solutions to preventing this issue include wearing a mask with soft fabric ties instead of elastic; using a mask extender that connects at the back of the head instead of the ears; and being sure to remove the mask slowly.

IFA believes the ability to improve hearing and communication of older people cannot solely be done through hearing technology, but also must involve training for health care professionals and education for older people on how to create optimal listening environments. These factors especially need to be taken into consideration when barriers such as increased use of face masks are presented.

For more information on the importance of hearing solutions for older people, contact IFA Expert Dr. Frank Lin, who emphasizes the importance of communication in all settings in a video by Johns Hopkins Medicine:

“Our ability to communicate really defines our life and our ability to engage with everyone around us. For hearing and communication, it means not just using a device. It’s about being able to effectively communicate in all settings.” 

In addition, join the IFA 15th Global Conference on Ageing “Rights Matter” on 3-5 March 2020 to learn more on the interplay between hearing loss, older people and communication under the conference sub-theme “Maximizing Senses”, and submit an abstract today!

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