Masks interfere with understanding speech for people with hearing loss

Photo credit: Cleyder Duque from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Understanding speech can be difficult for people with hearing loss, and the requirement for wearing masks during the current COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates this problem. Mask wearing muffles speech, and it makes understanding difficult even for people without hearing loss, as many people with hearing loss consciously or unconsciously use lip reading and interpretation of expressions to help understand what is being said.

And sound decays according to the inverse square law, so the 6-foot social distancing requirement reduces sound volume compared to standing closer to the person one is conversing with.

As noted in this piece from CNN, there are things we can do to help communicate with people with hearing loss:

  • Face them and maintain eye contact when speaking.
  • Speak slowly and carefully.
  • Ask them to repeat back what they heard, so you can be sure they heard it correctly.

And If that doesn’t work, now there are masks being made with clear windows to allow the listener to see the speaker’s lips!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

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