COVID 19 and Hearing Loss | Communication Tips

Two people wear face masks and premium hearing aids during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Navigating the Covid-19 pandemic can be especially challenging for people with hearing loss. This article explains why, and provides tips to make it easier.

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with a hearing loss is challenging, but as living through the pandemic becomes the new “normal” we need to adjust our lives and lifestyles. Many things have been impacted by COVID-19, hearing loss is not the exception. We are learning how important it is to take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and the people around us safe. Wearing a face mask and/or face visor is not easy for everyone, especially for people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids. This is one of a few challenges that are unique to people with hearing loss because:

  1. They hear better with access to visual cues
    Visual cues include lip reading, facial expressions, and gestures. Due to the pandemic, the World Health Organization has strongly advocated for the use of face masks to curb the spread of the disease. However, masks cover the face, and therefore lip reading and observing facial expressions become challenging. Most places also have screens or visors as an additional protective barrier between employees and customers. This poses a challenge to people with hearing loss because they are no longer able to rely on visual cues.
  2. They hear better when they are closer to the speaker
    Social distancing is another form of protection against the spread of the virus that makes hearing very challenging. When you struggle to hear someone you instinctively want them to stand and speak closer to you. However, in these current times, this poses a threat to your safety.

Tips to help you improve communication during COVID-19

  1. Make sure that your hearing aids are inserted correctly and are working properly.
  2. Remember that hearing aids these days are small and discreet, so other people will not be able to see them and therefore will not know that you have difficulty hearing. If you are comfortable doing so, let them know that you have hearing loss and you need them to communicate more clearly and slowly.
  3. Speak slowly and clearly to encourage the person you’re speaking to, to do the same.
  4. Practice appropriate social distancing but watch the speaker closely, they may still use gestures and other visible facial expressions which will help you to understand them.
  5. It will be easier to hear and understand responses if you ask closed-ended questions (Question: “Is the toilet paper in aisle 7?” Response: “Yes”/Nod head) instead of open-ended questions (Question: “Where can I find the toilet paper?” Response: “Perhaps you can have a look in aisle 7.”)
  6. Use alternative means of communication, such as a written shopping list of items so that you can point to what you need.
  7. Do not remove your mask or expect the other person to remove theirs, it is a safety and preventative measure that is important and should be respected.

How to wear a mask with hearing aids

Some hearing aid users may be having difficulty wearing their hearing aids with a mask, especially if they wear behind-the-ear hearing aids. A pair of spectacles can make it even more tricky as they all rest on the space behind the ears. Sometimes hearing aids can fall off the ears whilst you are putting the mask on or taking it off. Here are some tips that could make wearing a mask with hearing aids more comfortable. 

  1. Rather than wearing a mask with two elastics that go around the ears, wear a mask that has four elastics that can be tied at the back of the head.
  2. Be very careful when you remove your mask, and do so as little as possible, in case your hearing aids fall off.
  3. Purchase a button extender for your mask so that the elastics are extended further behind your head and do not have to attach directly behind your ears.
  4. If you can, use your hair to hold the elastics in-place away from your ears. For example, tie your hair in a bun and hook the elastic around the bun.

If you suspect you have hearing loss during Covid-19

For someone suspecting or experiencing a hearing loss, remote hearing healthcare is available so that you do not need to leave your home to get tested.

  • First, take a quick online hearing test from the comfort of your home to determine if there is potential hearing loss and a diagnostic hearing test is required. 
  • If the online hearing test indicates that you do need a hearing aid, you can order your hearing aids directly from the Lexie Hearing website
  • Your hearing aids will be delivered directly to your home within 5 days. Download the Lexie App, take the hearing check using the App, program your hearing aids to the results, and personalize your devices. You will be on your way to better hearing without having to risk your health.

Should you want or need to see a hearing health practitioner, in person:

  • Many specialists are still open and consulting whilst ensuring that they are taking all the precautions necessary for your safety.
  • Some specialists are engaged in online consultations for those who are very reluctant to be in contact with other people, so contact your closest hearing health practitioner to enquire if they are taking all the necessary precautions at their rooms and how they can best assist you with assessing your hearing. 
Hema Thakor

Written byHema Thakor

B. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

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