(Image source: Lex 18)
An unexpected side effect of more people wearing face masks is that those with hearing impairment—from those with hearing loss to deaf individuals—are feeling more cut off. Even those who use hearing aids may find themselves struggling to understand what is being said, as many people rely on being able to read lips and facial features to track conversations.
But there are solutions that don’t require you to go without a mask, which many areas are starting to mandate you must have a face mask on when outside as COVID-19 continues to spread. Instead, there are face masks with a clear window that allows for lips to be seen.
Communication Impairment Can Trigger Feeling Of Isolation
People who have not faced communication barriers may not understand how isolating it can be to struggle to connect with the people around them. But one of the main issues that bring our patients to our hearing clinic is the feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation hearing loss can cause.
Not being able to hear what your friends and family are saying can be frustrating for both the person with hearing loss and for those without. In many cases, the person with hearing loss will withdraw from any form of socializing, which is a common trigger for depression and other mental health issues, such as cognitive decline. Hearing aids help remove the communication barrier, but often, those with hearing loss have learned to also use lip reading and body language to follow the gist of conversations, which full face masks prevent.
Face Masks With Clear Window Can Help Communication
Initially, it was a little disconcerting to see a face mask with a window, as a person’s lips seem disconnected from the rest of their face. However, once you see it in practice, the face masks with a clear window help to remove the barrier to lip-reading and allow for people to more correctly interpret expressions.
Since any style of face mask will muffle your voice, removing the barrier of a full face mask can help those with hearing impairment feel less lost. You can even try and make a clear window mask at home, as one college senior has done.
Ashley Lawrence, a student majoring deaf education at Eastern Kentucky University, has taken it into her hands to design and make homemade face masks with clear windows. As she said in one interview, “I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over,” Lawrence added. “We’re all panicking right now and so a lot of people are just not being thought of. So, I felt like it was very important that, even at a time like this, people need to have that communication.”
Other Ways To Help Hearing Impaired Connect
Unfortunately, here at Hearing Associates of Las Vegas, we are unable to order the transparent window masks at this time, as all of the FDA-approved masks are on backorder. Since we will not compromise the safety of our patients with less-effective options, we have worked on other ways to connect that you can try with your hearing-impaired loved ones.
- Video calls – Keeping strict quarantine is important to help prevent from overwhelming the local medical system, so if you can, try to stick to video calls and not visits. With video calls, your hearing-impaired loved one can see your face without a mask and more easily follow a conversation. In a professional capacity, we offer video telehealth to help patients remotely with their hearing aids so that they can follow our instructions more easily.
- Turn off background noise – Keep any background noise—appliances running, music, etc.—down as low as possible, preferably to zero background noise. That way, there is nothing to interfere with your ability to communicate.
- Ensure there is good lighting – With good lighting, it is far easier for someone with hearing impairment to track your facial expressions, body language, and lip read.
- Keep facing them – As hearing aids can be directional in their sound capturing, it is important to keep facing your loved one to ensure that they can catch what you’re saying. Also, it allows the person with hearing impairment to read your lips and expressions to keep up with the conversation.
Also, we are doing our best to protect you during this pandemic. Along with spacing out in-person appointments and decontaminating our offices often, we are offering curbside services as well as our telehealth remote services that we mentioned above. Feel free to contact us to either set up an appointment or discuss which of these services we can use to help you!