COVID-19 and communication
BY DIRK DE MOORE, AUDIOLOGIST, BENDIGO HEARING CLINIC
All I can say is that whoever invented Earhook facemasks didn’t wear a hearing aid!!
AS we all know, we will be living with ongoing restrictions of some sort from COVID-19 for some time. It has affected our way of life but also impacted our ability to communicate.
While it is the hearing impaired, who I deal with most, who have been severely impacted we all will have to live with three key factors which will continue to affect our communication.
I’ve lost count of the number of patients who have told me they’ve almost lost a hearing aid removing their facemask.
Washable cloth masks are quite popular and comfortable and better for the environment given that I have read that worldwide we are using a staggering 129 billion disposable masks each month.
Apart from not seeing someone’s expression, which I personally find most disconcerting, masks adversely impact communication in two ways.
First, they act as an acoustic barrier and drop the speech signal anywhere from three to 12 decibels depending on the type of mask. But acoustically they also act as a lowpass filter allowing low speech sound through but reducing high pitched sounds making it even harder to hear that girl at the supermarket checkout.
However, the most obvious impact masks have is to reduce our ability to lip read.
Those with significant hearing loss can lip read anywhere from up to 50 to 80 per cent of speech but we all gain about 15 per cent of speech understanding from lip reading.
A simple exercise to demonstrate this is to watch the nightly news and cover the TV with a blanket and then turn the volume down to a level where you can’t quite follow the speech. Remove the blanket and you’ll be able to follow every word.
For 38 years as an audiologist, I’ve been telling people to move closer together. Now we are telling everybody to move further apart!
Understanding speech relies on gaining a person’s attention, facing them and being close enough to allow them to hear you.
With social distancing we are making it harder to understand speech because every time we double the distance from someone, say from the mandated one-and-a-half metres to three metres we drop the speech signal by six decibels, which might not sound like a lot, but it reduces the sound level 50 per cent making perceived speech 30 per cent softer.
Also, we are pushing others potentially closer to other distracting noises like traffic or air conditioners thereby further reducing the signal to noise ratio and hence speech understanding.
Poor internet speeds and connectivity are not helping communication during this pandemic. Zoom conferences range from high to appalling in quality with images sometimes freezing, faces fuzzy and with the sound often distorted.
Looking at measures to improve your internet connectivity and even investing in good quality headphones, or better still if you have even a mild hearing loss, the latest hearing aids which have superb Bluetooth streaming capability will improve your chances of successful communication.
Stay safe, stay well, stay positive.
For more advice on improving your hearing and ability to communicate or to book in for a free trail of the latest hearing aids – see advert below – call the Bendigo Hearing Clinic 5442 5800 or visit bendigohearingclinic.com.au.