10 Tips for Managing Face Masks and Hearing Loss.
Prepare in advance to keep interactions short, increase your comprehension and reserve your energy.
Determine what can be handled, researched or purchased and delivered to your home. Share information or ask your questions in advance by email, phone or video call. If safe and permitted, bring a trusted friend or family member. Replace batteries or charge hearing aids to ensure working prior to going out.
Determine how you want to self-disclose and advocate for your communication needs.
Prepare a handwritten sign or message on paper (or digitally, see Tip #5) indicating you can’t hear well when masks are worn so that others will be more apt to help than assume you’re ignoring them or being rude. Provide specific direction on how they can help.
Practice and exercise communication strategies.
Anticipate the types of communication exchanges that will likely transpire given the setting and context. Ask the other person to communicate slightly louder and slower. Adjust the volume of your hearing device higher or lower (if noisy) could help. Always bring paper and pens as a backup. Request rephrasing if you’ve already asked twice to repeat the information, use gestures and hand signs like “thumbs up.” And, remember to look at the eyes for non-verbal clues.
Technology for Facilitating Communication and Enhancing Audio
Try out and use smartphone apps that can help facilitate communication.
Consider speech-to-text apps such as Google Live Transcribe (Android Only), Ava and Otter and pair with a wireless microphone such as Alead Nolan LiveMIC2 or a plug in microphone compatible with your smartphone to improve its pickup of speech at distance.
Prepopulate digital flashcard apps (or paper index cards) with information and phrases that can help minimize unexpected questions or comments.
This can be done with apps such as BuzzCards , Cardzilla for iPhone or Cardzilla for Android Phone, or Big Note for iPhone or Big Note for Android Phone. For example, one phrase you may find helpful to have prepared in advance is “I read lips and cannot see your mouth. Please speak in the direction of my phone so the app can transcribe your speech.”
Consider using assistive listening devices that can extend a hearing aid or cochlear implant’s range in picking up spoken language at a distance.
Some examples include a Phonak Roger Pen or a portable FM device. Reach out to your audiologist to learn more about which option is best for you.
Wearing Face Masks with Hearing Devices
Prevent loss of your hearing device when mask wearing.
Secure a hearing device on the ear with eyeglass straps or OtoClips (pinned or clipped to clothing on one end and the other end hooked onto the the behind-the-ear or receiver-in-canal hearing aid styles). Adhesives such as wig tape or other commercially available products designed to secure hearing aids might help as well.
Put face masks on and off carefully to avoid dislodging and potentially losing your hearing device.
For tie-back style masks, pull cords up in front of hearing devices and tie at top of head or run cords below the front of the ear and tie around neck. With masks that have elastic ties, pull the stretchy cords away from and off the ear and secure both ends at top of head with a string, linked paperclips, a strip of Velcro, or secure to a button sewed onto either side of a cloth headband.
Request clear masks are worn when inventory becomes more readily available or make your own.
The FDA registered face mask, The Communicator Surgical Mask, is on backorder through mid-May. It is likely other manufacturers are exploring the design of and production of clear masks to meet demand. Meanwhile, consider constructing your own clear masks and provide to those with whom you interact with in everyday situations. Search YouTube and Google for instructions and patterns.
Be mindful of the range of emotions you may experience before, during and after interactions where masks are worn.
Acknowledge the anxiety and stress from anticipating and experiencing difficult exchanges. Solicit support from understanding family or friends. Know that surprises happen and may throw off your plan. Be flexible and as gentle with yourself as possible, practice self-care, breathe and remember this is temporary.