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Communicating in a Time of Covid
Here at AVA Hearing Center, we know that many of the precautions being used to keep us all safe are also going to interfere with the way we communicate. We have some suggestions to help you stay connected to the people in your life.
MASKS: Reading facial expression and lip movements are two activities most of us use to supplement our communication skills. We do it without even being aware of it. The sounds that are most difficult to hear are the sounds that are most easily recognized on the lips. When we have a mask on, those subtle visual cues are taken away from us. Those same sounds are often the softer, higher pitched sound in speech. Sounds like "S", "T", "F" and 'Th" are blocked by our masks. The sound can't travel very far. Masks, combined with social distancing means fewer audible speech cues, resulting in more "GAPS" in conversation the brain now has to "FILL IN" with what it assumes is the missing sound. That process takes time.
TO HELP -
- Have family and friends speak SLOWER not LOUDER. The slowed conversation allows the brain the time it needs to process the signal and fill in the gaps. LOUDER conversation can cause distortion for many people with hearing loss or those who are wearing hearing aids. LOUDER does not always equal BETTER.
- We may all have to learn to communicate our emotions differently when wearing a mask. Masks block visual cues like a smile or a frown. Encourage people to use language to express emotion. Expand usual greeting like saying "Hi, I'm glad to meet you" instead of just saying "HI". Give clues about your emotion by giving a glimpse into your current emotion; "I'm frustrated at the moment", "I'm so excited about ... " this allows the listener to more easily identify words in your conversation that would support the underlying feelings, feelings that may not be visible because of a masked face.
- Consider using a clear face mask or face shield. There are some great shields that have a protective barrier around the exterior of the shield, providing control of breath but giving great, unobstructed visual cues for lipreading or seeing expressions. Shields are a bit more cumbersome than just a mask but for people who work with hearing impaired colleagues, patients and customers it is a great alternative.
- Use Aural Rehabilitation exercises to help improve the speed at which the brain can process sound. There are some web-based exercise programs like clear (www.clEARWorks4EARs.com) , LACE (www.neurotone.com) and Brain HQ (www.brainHQ.com) that improve aural processing and listening skills.
- There are also some easy Memory training workbooks available. Memory is a big part of listening and understanding conversation. Improving memory and exercising the brain has benefits for signal processing - following conversation. I like The Memory Workbook by Dr. Douglas Mason.
- Even the simple task of reading out loud for 15 minutes a day can help with listening skills, especially when using a hearing. Another easy exercise is to have someone read a book while you follow along by reading the text. Audible book works with Kindle to offer READ/LISTEN options.
- If you struggle to hear television but don't have a hearing aid, consider using a chairside speaker. There are Bluetooth devices that can connect to a pair of headphones or a portable speaker that can bring the sound in closer to the ears. There are also personal amplifier systems like Williams Pocket Talker or even a Walker's Game Ear (watch your volumes though) that can be used improve conversational listening.
- If you have hearing aids and are still struggling to hear conversation while masked, consider using a volume control or phone-based app to adjust the gains to a more comfortable listening level. You may also want to visit your Audiologist to have an adjustment made, making sure you are getting the maximum benefit from your hearing aids.
If you don't have a hearing aid but are struggling to hear, consider visiting AVA Hearing Center for an evaluation. Hearing aids come in a wide variety of technology levels, prices, shapes and features. AVA Hearing Center works with multiple manufacturers to give you choices.