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By: Tatyana Kennedy, Au.D

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At the time of this post, we are about four months into the Covid-19 pandemic here in the U.S. By now, we have all experienced physical barriers, social distancing and mask use, as we return to work in greater numbers and resume small gatherings with friends and family. We are all eager to re-enter the world to a greater extent and to safely enjoy the small things we once took for granted. However, as Audiologists, we are increasingly hearing from our patients that they are struggling to hear and communicate easily through masks. This is true for those patients that do not use hearing aids as well as those who previously performed well with their devices.  Rest assured, there may be a good explanation as to why this is happening and some practical solutions if you or your loved ones are noticing more difficulty hearing in the age of Covid-19.

WHY ARE MASKS A CHALLENGE?

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Masks make it difficult for all of us to communicate easily and effectively. Even people with normal hearing rely on lip reading and visual cues to fully understand the message someone is trying to convey.  Not only that, a mask muffles the speech signal, reducing the high frequencies we all need to clearly understand what is being said.  Add to that a distance of six feet, or in many establishments, a physical barrier, and you have quite a challenge ahead of you.  This can lead to frustration on the part of the speaker and the listener, or worse, coming away with the wrong information entirely, which can be dangerous if you are speaking with a doctor or pharmacist, for example. However, most people with normal hearing will still be able to get by with some increased effort, occasional repetition and basic communication strategies.

EASY STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TODAY

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Here is a brief review of some strategies that can help us all communicate more effectively and make you feel more in control and confident as you re-enter life post quarantine.

  • Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself and ask for repetition of the same message in a different way.
  • Ask others to speak slowly and clearly at a normal volume, as shouting decreases clarity.
  • Move away from background noise (e.g. air conditioning or traffic noise when outdoors).
  • BE PATIENT

I AM STILL STRUGGLING

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For some, even with the above strategies, the amount of effort needed to communicate effectively while using a mask and socially distancing can seem insurmountable and exhausting.  If you are finding yourself in this category, hearing loss may be the underlying reason.  Hearing loss generally happens gradually, and most people are not aware of their hearing loss when it first begins (this is just one reason to have your hearing checked routinely starting at the age of 40).

Prior to Covid-19, you may have had family members mention to you that the TV is too loud or struggled to understand speech clearly in a noisy restaurant or work meeting. These are generally the first signs of mild hearing loss. It is important to note that mild hearing loss does not mean it is not significant enough to address. We know that even mild hearing losses are associated with adverse consequences such as increased risk of cognitive decline, social isolation, depression, and increased fall risk. However, most folks who experience early symptoms of hearing loss tend to attribute them to external factors and put off hearing testing and treatment for an average of 7-10 years (can you imagine putting off getting your vision test or physical for that long?).

LETS FIND A SOLUTION

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If communication is proving difficult and exhausting with mask use at work, socially, or even running small errands, speaking with an Audiologist is the first step. We can quickly and accurately assess your hearing and determine whether an underlying hearing loss is the cause of your increased communication difficulties and create a treatment plan.

If you have previously had your hearing tested and would like to revisit your treatment options, our Audiologists are ready to update you on the latest in hearing technology to optimize your performance in all listening environments. There are also many non-hearing aid options that can improve your hearing and communication abilities.

Lastly, if you are a current hearing aid patient, and finding hearing more difficult in recent months, even with your devices optimized prior to Covid-19, please do not hesitate to reach out.  Our Audiologists will help check whether your hearing aids are functioning properly and review supplemental solutions using assistive listening devices, your hearing aid app, or voice to text apps. We can also create a separate program within your hearing aids that is tailored to optimize speech clarity when someone is speaking to your from behind a mask and/or at a distance.

ADVANCED AUDIOLOGY OF NY IS HERE TO HELP

No matter where you are on your hearing health journey, Advanced Audiology of NY is committed to making the lives of our patients better, safer and easier. All three of our locations are open with increased cleaning and precautions in place to keep our patients and staff healthy and safe. Please visit our website or call any of our locations to schedule an appointment and allow us to help you maximize your hearing and your health during this challenging time.

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About the Author:

Tatyana Kennedy, Au.D., CCC-A

Dr. Kennedy is an Audiologist with over 15 years of experience creating tailored hearing health solutions for patients with hearing and balance disorders who are looking to lead productive and fulfilling lives. She is a mother of two and a wife of one, an athlete and an avid traveler. She loves all things technology and tells unnecessarily long stories. Dr. Kennedy accepted a full-time parenting position at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic but remains committed to helping people make informed decisions about achieving better hearing and health.

 

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