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Two older adults communicate while wearing masks during COVID-19

Strategies to Help Seniors with Hearing Loss During COVID-19

Many seniors battle the effects of hearing loss as they get older. Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss, according to recent research. This battle has become even more challenging for seniors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Individuals around the globe are donning masks and keeping safe distances to reduce the spread of coronavirus, but older adults with hearing limitations are struggling to understand and communicate effectively with family, friends and others.

While coordinated efforts to protect the elderly from COVID-19 are in effect, we can use simple strategies to better communicate with those with hearing impairments – even through a mask.

Senior Hearing Loss and Masks

Interpretation of unclear speech relies a great deal on observing the mouth as it moves. When the mouth is obscured by a mask, individuals can find it nearly impossible to understand muffled speech.

A study published in the Hearing Review tested masks which the public has frequently adopted and found they all cause significant speech quality degradation. The study claims masks act as sound filters and “degrade speech to the point of unintelligibility” for those who have typical hearing loss. Masks also block the higher-pitched tones that allow sounds to be distinguished.

Tips for Speaking Through Masks

The authors of the Hearing Review study offered the following list to help make life easier and safer for the elderly with hearing loss:

  • Speak slowly
  • Reduce all background noise and get the attention of your listener
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Do not shout
  • Use body language where possible
  • Make sure hearing aid wearers are wearing their devices and that they work
  • If remarks are not understood, rephrase them rather than repeating them

“Don’t underestimate the power of body language, eye contact and slowing down speech to be more clear,” recommends Dr. Mandy Mroz, AuD, president of Healthy Hearing.

Tips for Seniors With Hearing Loss

Many seniors have reported problems with wearing masks, including speech comprehension and dislodgment of their hearing aids. Seniors with hearing loss could encounter additional problems during visits to health and medical facilities. In a noisy, distracting and stressful environment such as a hospital, for example, they may not fully understand or successfully follow their physician’s directions or communicate symptoms clearly.

The following tips can help seniors wear their masks correctly and safely to avoid problems during the pandemic:

  • Use fabric or plastic mask extenders or loops to secure masks instead of ear loops
  • Remove masks slowly to keep hearing aids in place
  • Encourage others to use good speaking habits
  • Face others and ask them to take turns when speaking
  • Be willing to state you have hearing difficulties

Many resources are available for seniors who are hearing-impaired and impacted heavily by mask mandates. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has put together a video with tips for employers to make virtual work easier on the hard of hearing.

If your senior is struggling with hearing loss and needs companionship and assistance at home during these troubling times, an in-home caregiver from Visiting Angels is a great option to help and care for your loved one.

If you're interested in more information about how in-home care can help your senior loved ones, contact your nearest Visiting Angels office today or call 800-365-4189.
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