Hearing While Masked - Low Tech Solutions to Covid-19 Problems

Hearing While Masked – Low Tech Solutions to Covid-19 Problems

by | May 29, 2020 | Hearing Loss, Patient Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed our lives.  Work, recreation, social life, even religion, have all been affected in innumerable ways.  In order to not only survive but to thrive, we must adapt to this ever-changing world.

In last month’s article, I touched on the critical/essential need of hearing and hearing healthcare during a time when communication (from near and far) is so important to our mental & social well being.  I highlighted how much our patients depend upon and appreciate the amazing ‘tools’ in today’s state-of-the-art hearing aids and assistive technology to stay connected to loved ones.

Though not explicitly stated, this also extends to those working during this mess.  Just yesterday, I had a patient who works as a consultant for NASA say that without his hearing aids, “I’d be dead in the water.”  I also touched on how TeleAudiology is allowing the hearing healthcare field to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic posed by the necessary ‘shelter-in-place’ orders.  Amazing stuff, to be sure.

But we’ve also been hearing from our patients about a couple of problems they are experiencing that don’t necessarily lend themselves to ‘high-tech’ solutions.  These problems are associated with the need for wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The first stems from our mouths being covered when speaking.  Hearing-impaired individuals, even/especially those using amplification, depend on visual cues to supplement their ability to understand speech.  Many of the most important (higher frequency) sounds have distinct visual cues. Look in a mirror when you say the words “ship” and “zip.”  You can see how much visual difference there is.

Individuals are often unaware of how much they depend on those visual cues to complement the auditory information they receive.  In addition, with masks, we lose critical non-verbal facial cues & expressions.  The pandemic has really surprised many of my patients in this regard.  It’s also made its way into mainstream media coverage of unique pandemic issues.

Now I’ve always loved simple ‘low-tech’ solutions to problems, and some entrepreneurial (and prescient) folks have come up with a way to address this issue-masks with a clear, non-fogging window.  Though these masks are only just now making inroads, with more awareness of the benefits for the deaf/hearing impaired, I hope their use becomes more widespread.

The second issue for hearing aid users directly associated with wearing masks stems from how many of them attach behind the ear.  We’ve already had a few patients, unfortunately, lose their hearing aids (& many more who almost did)  because they fell off when they were putting on or removing their masks.  Low-Tech to the rescue again!

An ingenious individual came up with a solution to address this problem-a comfortable thin plastic piece that allows the user to comfortably and securely attach the straps of the mask behind their head instead of their ears.  I loved these so much, I’m giving them away to any behind-the-ear hearing aid user, whether they’re an existing patient of ours or not.

Just like with ‘High-Tech’ (TeleAudiology, adaptive digital sound processing, Bluetooth, IoT, Fall Detection, etc.), the best audiology and hearing health care must always include smart, simple ‘Low-Tech’ ways to address the specific, unique and/or new issues our patients experience.

Wishing everyone health, and sending a personal thank you to everyone doing their part (and more) to help us get past this incredibly difficult and challenging time for our community and country.  We’ll get through this together!  And please continue to support your local businesses.

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Jonathan Lipschutz Audiologist, M.S., F-AAA, Owner

Jonathan is the owner of Berkeley Hearing Center. He received his bachelor of science in hearing and speech science and a master of science in audiology from Purdue University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and the California Academy of Audiology. Jonathan has over 20 years of audiology and hearing aid experience in both the non-profit and corporate sectors.

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