It is not uncommon for people with hearing loss to experience loneliness and isolation, as it can be harder to engage in a conversation. And now that we live in a world that recommends face masks and social distancing, it is important that we recognize that the sense of isolation among those who are hard of hearing may be more prominent now than ever before. However, there are ways to improve the communication barriers that have been intensified due to the pandemic.
First, it’s important to understand the primary types of hearing loss.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), nearly 38 million Americans are impacted by one of three types of hearing loss, ranging from slight to profound—all of which present their own unique set of challenges and treatments.
TYPES OF HEARING LOSS
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss, which is often attributed to aging, happens when the cochlea, the organ in the inner ear that senses sound, loses its tiny nerve hair cells. This loss typically starts around 50 years old, but can start as early as 18. Typically, the high frequencies or pitches are affected, which means that it is difficult to hear soft speech sounds, especially in background noise.
Noise-Induced or “Accelerated” Hearing Loss
With age, many people experience a reduced sense of hearing, but consistent exposure to loud noises can expedite that process and can happen at any age. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs due to a one-time exposure or repeated exposure to loud sounds.
As with any sensorineural hearing loss, speech sounds may be difficult to hear. People with sensorineural hearing losses often report that people sound like they are mumbling. Most sensorineural hearing losses, whether due to aging or noise exposure can be treated. In cases of more severe loss or extremely poor word understanding, cochlear implants may be recommended.
Conductive Hearing Loss
When sound waves are blocked from entering the ear canal or in the middle ear due to blockage or damage, conductive hearing loss occurs. This type of hearing loss can occur due to wax buildup, ear infections or abnormal growths within the middle ear.
Some conductive hearing losses can be treated with medication or surgery. Other conductive hearing losses can be treated with hearing aids.
NEW COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES CREATED BY COVID-19
Before COVID-19, many people with hearing loss relied on reading lips and identifying speech patterns—a technique used to understand speech by evaluating the movement of lips, face and tongue—even with the use of a hearing aid.
The use of lip and speech reading can help fill in the gaps not captured by a hearing aid, such as visual cues. In lip-reading, one focuses on the mouth placement of the person they are speaking with—allowing them to essentially make an educated guess on what is being said. Recognizing body gestures (raised eyebrows, nodding heads, shrugged shoulders, etc.) also aids in understanding the information within a conversation.
However, the pandemic has catapulted our friends, families, co-workers, healthcare professionals and more into a phone and video chat-only world, making these techniques more difficult to utilize.
We’ve all experienced bad network connections, choppy audio and people awkwardly talking over each other—making it challenging to clearly move forward in a conversation, even for those not impacted by hearing loss.
And, even with stay-at-home orders easing up, face masks are strongly encouraged by government and healthcare professionals—thus, making it impossible for any type of lip reading.
HOW TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION BARRIERS
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) provides some great tips to consider for better communication:
- If possible, be in the same room with the people you are talking to.
- Ask those in your conversation to slow their speech down.
- Kindly ensure your conversation partner is looking directly at you.
- Speak up if you are having difficulty hearing or understanding.
- Use closed captioning tools when utilizing video chat and watching TV or movies.
- Allow yourself to have dedicated quiet time. It takes more energy to listen when you have hearing loss.
(LESS THAN) FIVE MINUTE HEARING TEST
If you are struggling with day-to-day communication due to potential hearing loss, consider taking the (less than) five minute hearing test below. If you experience three or more of these questions below, we recommend scheduling an appointment with UC Health Audiology.
Five Minute Hearing Test
- Do you struggle to hear over the phone? (Yes or No)
- Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time? (Yes or No)
- Do others complain that you turn the TV volume up too high? (Yes or No)
- Do you have to strain to understand conversation? (Yes or No)
- Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background? (Yes or No)
- Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves? (Yes or No)
- Do others seem to mumble or not speak clearly? (Yes or No)
- Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately? (Yes or No)
- Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children? (Yes or No)
- Do others get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say? (Yes or No)
UC HEALTH AUDIOLOGY CAN HELP
UC Health Audiology is now allowing in-person visits and has put numerous policies and procedures in place to ensure the environment is safe and sanitized. Anyone entering the building will be screened by having their temperature taken and will be asked a few questions to ensure they are not ill. All patients and staff are required to wear masks to decrease the chances of spreading potentially infectious particles by coughing, sneezing or speaking. And, the waiting room has been configured for social distancing, placing patients 6 feet apart and is regularly sanitized. All test and consultation rooms are cleaned thoroughly after each patient visit.
For more information about UC Health Audiology services call 513-475-8453.