HIGHLAND PARK, N.J., May 20, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- As mask wearing becomes more commonplace during the novel coronavirus pandemic, one central New Jersey audiology practice, The Hearing Center, is educating the public on how to ensure that those who are hard of hearing are not inadvertently left out of the conversation.
"Those with hearing loss are much more dependent on visual cues while communicating," said Eric Sandler, Sc.D., of The Hearing Center. "Our brains 'see' sound based on lip movement. Those cues are cut off visually when a mask is over your face."
Sandler and The Hearing Center are educating the public on the needs of those who are hard of hearing, whether they are diagnosed or not, and how wearing masks can have a serious impact on how others understand everyday conversation.
"Around 80 percent of people who have hearing loss are untreated, and they may only first realize they have an issue because of the masks," Sandler said. "It's not just those experiencing hearing challenges – everyone relies on visual cues in conversation."
While there are already some prototypes for masks with clear windows – and The Hearing Center staff is working on a model of its own – Sandler said there are certain environments where those masks may not be the best or safest option.
"The clear window can fog up with your breath, which defeats the purpose of see-through panels, especially because masks shouldn't be taken off, wiped, and put back on," Sandler said.
Until such a model is perfected and is widely available, Sandler recommends getting the attention of the person being spoken to before starting a conversation.
"Don't talk to the computer screen – face the person and speak directly to the individual in front of you, whether you work in a grocery store, a doctor's office, or anywhere else," Sandler said. "If you don't get their attention, they may not realize they're being spoken to at all." He also advised that patients can be asked to repeat back key points to make sure the intended message was understood.
Sandler also recommends utilizing talk to text apps, especially in medical settings where patients may not have a caregiver or family member to help them hear key information.
"Due to COVID-19, many doctor's offices, urgent care, emergency room, and hospital room settings are restricting visitors, which may mean that a hard-of-hearing individual may not have anyone to help advocate on their behalf," Sandler said. "A talk to type tool ensures that a patient gets every word you're saying, so they can make the proper decisions about their health."
Sandler said that navigating everyday conversation while wearing masks is a "new normal" that many may not even be aware is an issue, but through community education, Sandler and The Hearing Center can raise awareness and impart tips on how to navigate the new reality.
"These are strategies for the public to accommodate people with hearing loss in a world where people are wearing masks everywhere you go," Sandler said. "One of our goals is to make the public aware that there are steps you can take to help those who are struggling to understand everyday conversation."
The Hearing Center's Highland Park, Somerset, Clark, and Manalapan offices are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The audiology practice plans to reopen on June 8th with stringent COVID-19 infection control protocols. For more information about the practice or to receive updates on new opening hours and protocol, visit www.thcaudiology.com.
The Hearing Center is a full-service audiology practice for children and adults. Eric Sandler, Sc.D., is a sought-after speaker who delivers seminars at conferences around the U.S.