In the past 8 months, COVID-19 has had a life altering societal impact on the way we work, socialize and relate to each other. For Springhouse senior living’s population in particular – older adults who are hard of hearing or deaf – wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is more than an annoyance but also it’s a hindrance to hear and effectively communicate.
According to Audiologist, Dr. Adrienne Ulrich, masks are a complication for people who rely on visual cues for communication. Paper and cloth masks that appear thin still impair sound quality especially for older adults with hearing loss and make it impossible for those that are used to reading lips. The impact of the mask is greater for our elders with hearing loss because seniors, who may have mild hearing loss, suddenly have a greater hearing loss and those with moderate loss now have a severe loss of hearing. So as you can see, this can have a significant impact.
As if that isn’t tough enough, now add eyeglasses in addition to the hearing aids and masks. That is a lot going on behind the ear. We have seen many seniors take their mask off in a hurry and the hearing aid flies off too. By the time they realize it, it can be difficult to locate the hearing aid.
With the onset on COVID-19, those with hearing loss have to deal with the masks and social distancing which in turn makes the entire process of hearing really difficult. No more facial expressions to help guide a conversation. Then adding the distance of 6’ or more makes it nearly impossible for some seniors. They can’t hear each other and probably can’t see much of them either since half their face is covered with a mask.
Older adults with hearing loss also rely on the people speaking with them to speak clearly and loudly. But with the addition of the mask, it seems like everyone has marbles in their mouth. Speech often comes across as being garbled. All this just compounds how difficult it is for seniors with hearing loss.
Dr. Ulrich says “hearing loss is often considered a hidden disability and one that a lot of people don’t seek treatment for right away. If we are dealing with people who may have something that is being untreated or undiagnosed, we are further exacerbating their problems with masks. It is something that we need to have some consideration and tolerance for.”
If you’re trying to communicate with an older adults, especially during this time of COVID-19, please consider the challenges it may pose and the added difficulities it presents when masks are involved. In a recent article from AARP, they offer some tips for what to do when face masks interfere with your hearing.