Face Masks: Confusion and Stress for the Hearing Impaired

hearing loss, hearing, medicare, face mask


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While face mask mandates are essential for fighting coronavirus, they bring about issues for one group in particular: the hard of hearing. With everyone wearing face masks, it can be very difficult for those with hearing loss to discern what someone else is saying. Face masks reduce the volume of people’s voices, cover up the lips so there is no ability to lip-read, and obscure most of the person’s face, leaving it hard to discern the person’s expressions and emotions. 

Add to all of this the stress of the current pandemic, sheltering in place, and staying six feet apart, and older people with hearing loss are struggling. Especially if an older person is at a doctor appointment, in a hospital, or at an important meeting, the difficulty can lead to stress, isolation, confusion, and even depression.

Other stress factors for seniors with hearing loss at this time include the difficulty of wearing hearing aids with a mask, and cancelled appointments with hearing aid specialists to clean and tune up hearing aids. 

Hearing loss in seniors 

Hearing loss is a growing issue as we age. Around 48 million American adults have some form of hearing loss. In older adults, 25 percent of people age 65 to 74 experience hearing loss, and 50 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss.

It’s important for healthcare professionals to be sensitive to this type of situation and aware that people may not hear or understand them while they are wearing a face mask. Dr. Joshua Chodosh of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine said, “Whenever we talk to an older patient, we need to be mindful that they may be having difficulty understanding speech. In the masked era, this is even more important.”

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What you can do to communicate better

Is mask-wearing making your life harder than normal? Here are some tips on how you can make life easier for you with hearing loss:

  1. Bring someone with you to doctor appointments and important meetings to relieve stress and make sure you understand what is being said.
  2. Ask others to wear clear masks. For people with whom you interact frequently, ask them if they can wear masks with a clear section so that you can see their mouth. 
  3. Eliminate background noise. When having a conversation, ask others and do everything you can to turn off background noise from washing machines, fans, televisions, and other factors. 
  4. Use paper and pen or a whiteboard. If you are having trouble hearing, try using pen and paper or a whiteboard to communicate more easily. 
  5. Try a handheld amplification device like a pocket talker. These are simple portable microphones that make it easier to hear sounds around you. 
  6. Use a speech detection app. These work like closed captioning; examples are Otter.ai, Google Live Transcribe, or Interact-Streamer.
  7. Get an amplification app for your phone. These apps can amplify voices around you. Have the person you are speaking to hold the phone up to their mouth when they talk.  

Medicare and hearing 

Want to know more about Medicare and hearing? Read our articles on Medicare hearing test coverage, everything you need to know about hearing aids, and ways to cover hearing aid costs

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