Before 2020, most of us didn’t encounter people wearing masks very often outside of healthcare settings or workplace safety. Now, it’s common to see staff and customers alike wearing masks in stores, public transit, restaurants and other public places. It can be difficult to read their facial expressions or lips, and even harder to understand what they are saying – especially for people living with hearing loss.
While you want your clients to stay safe, mask use does create some extra challenges for you and them. Find out why – and what to do about these challenges.
Masks aren’t just blocking viruses, pollutants and particulates, they also interfere with one of the reasons people seek help for their hearing: to be able to hear speech better.
Most masks hide the lips, making lip reading impossible for people who rely on it to augment their hearing. You might have seen masks with a transparent area over the mouth to help mitigate this issue – but masks are blocking sound as well.
A recent article in Hearing Review1 demonstrates how different types of face masks attenuate speech:
- Paper surgical mask: 3-4 dB from 2-7 kHz
- N95 mask: up to 12 dB from 2-7 kHz
The results show how masks function as low-pass filters, significantly attenuating higher frequency speech sounds which we know are crucial for speech understanding. While cloth masks haven’t been tested yet, many people are wearing them in different styles and weights of materials.
So what can you do to help minimize the impact of masks on high frequency audibility? Our hearing aids include tools and features to help.
The easiest option is it to add the dedicated, manual program in our TrueFit™ fitting software. The program is pre-configured with adjustments that compensate for the filtering affects of masks.
For new clients, you can make it part of their initial fitting appointment or book a follow-up appointment for existing clients. Features including soft speech lift and speech enhancement, together with minor high frequency gain adjustments, make it a quick and simple way to address this challenge.
Things might sound a little different in your clients’ everyday lives than in your clinic. Our remote adjust feature gives you the flexibility to make fine- tuning adjustments to existing programs without clients having to come back to the clinic. Simply make the adjustments in TrueFit, send them to your clients, and they can apply the changes to their hearing aids whenever and wherever it’s convenient.
Your clients can further adjust settings on the manual mask program to suit their individual preferences using the equalizer option in the Remote Plus app. They can fine tune their listening experience by adjusting the bass, mid and treble for automatic and manual programs.
Or, when using the automatic program, they can use the app to enhance their listening experience when and where they need by using the clarity button to temporarily boost speech.
For one-on-one conversations, PartnerMic2 is ideal for noisy environments or when the speaker is at a distance. Using AirStream™ technology, PartnerMic can transmit the speaker’s voice directly to your clients’ hearing aids from up to 25 metres (about 80 feet) away. In addition to the obvious benefit for real-world use, you can easily use PartnerMic for new fittings and follow-up appointments in the clinic where you still need to maintain physical distance and wear a mask.
RogerDirect™ with Roger™ microphones may be a good option too. This feature allows a Roger microphone to transmit the speech of the conversation partner directly to the hearing aids.
Like eye glass frames, certain types of masks can compete for space behind the ear with some hearing aid styles. No one wants to send a hearing aid flying when taking off a mask, and comfort is essential for wearing both.
Here are some suggestions you can share:
- Try a different style of mask. Masks that have ties or elastics that loop around the back of the head rather than around the ears can steer clear of behind-the-ear (BTE) and receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid styles.
- Practice putting masks on and taking them off at home while wearing hearing aids to make sure everything stays in place.
- Wear a mask around the home with the hearing aids to make sure they will be comfortable for longer periods of time.
Masks may be part of our day-to-day lives for quite some time, but there are ways we can help clients hear their best while staying safe.
Watch the video to learn more about the products and features that can be used to help offset the effects of these challenges.
1Goldin A, Weinstein BE, Shiman N. How do medical masks degrade speech perception? Hearing Review. 2020;27(5):8-9.
2PartnerMic is compatible with wireless Discover Next models.