In response to COVID-19, the social order of the world has been utterly (and suddenly) transformed. That’s a good thing; it’s saving lives. But the same tools that we use to slow the spread of COVID-19 can be especially frustrating for anyone with hearing loss. That’s why hearing aids are more important than ever before.
Social Distancing When Hard of Hearing
Fighting the spread of novel coronavirus means social distancing. And social distancing requires a few tenets:
- Standing 6 feet away: First, you’re advised to stand at least six feet away from any other individual. That number isn’t arbitrary. Six feet is the distance that scientists currently believe droplets of the virus are likely to travel with normal conversation. Unfortunately, increased distance between speakers makes it harder to hear.
- Wearing a mask: Guidance from the CDC asks that people wear a mask when traveling outside of their home. Essentially, a mask works to make you less contagious should you unknowingly be infected. That’s why masks are most effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19 when everybody wears them. Masks can muffle the voice–especially at those precise vocal frequencies which happen to carry the most information. Additionally, facial coverings can take away important visual cues and make lip reading all but impossible.
- Limited in-person gatherings: Each state has its own guidelines on how large gatherings can be. (Although, even at these gatherings, social distancing practices should be followed.) If you’re meeting in person, it may be loud, you may be 6 feet away and masked…not a great combination if you’re suffering from hearing loss.
There are other guidelines as well that can make it difficult to hear. You’ll probably notice plexiglass at your local supermarket. This helps stop the spread of water droplets that may contain virus cells. Likewise, many restaurants are emphasizing outdoor seating, where street noise makes it hard to hear.
A Challenge if You Have Hearing Loss
These are all good steps–and they help keep the spread of the virus down to manageable levels (they’re flattening the curve, as the popular parlance goes). But for those with hearing loss, every bit of social distancing can make communication that much harder.
This communication challenge is then exacerbated by plexiglass screens and distance between people. The resulting situation can be especially frustrating if you have hearing loss because you want to be safe–but you also want to communicate.
A Hearing Aid Is Essential
In these cases, a hearing aid quickly becomes an essential tool. Hearing aids work to amplify specific frequencies of sound–such as those muffled by a mask. And these devices can also work to isolate and remove unwanted background sound, ensuring that the voice of the speaker is what’s in focus.
Each hearing aid can be customized to the user’s specific hearing loss symptoms, so it’s worth talking to your hearing specialist to see if you need any adjustments to adapt to social distancing. It’s also possible that you may need your first pair of hearing aids even if you managed without them before; the social distancing is what might push it over the edge.
The goal of any hearing aid is to help you hear and communicate more clearly. If you’re having trouble hearing because of social distancing, the solution is not to minimize distancing; the solution is to invest in a hearing aid.
If You’re Communicating With Someone Who Has Hearing Loss…
There are a couple of things that you can do to facilitate communication with someone who does has hearing loss:
- Enunciate your words: We sometimes talk about this as speaking more slowly. And that’s part of it. But enunciation is really what’s important. Ensuring you articulate your words can help the listener interpret your words.
- Use different words: Repeating the same phrase over and over will result only in frustration. But a different combination of words–because they use different frequencies in each of the letters–might help fill in some of the gaps and let the listener understand what’s being said.
- Patience: We’re all just trying to get by as best we can. So a little bit of patience can go a long way.
A Hearing Aid Can Save Your Life
Social distancing is necessary–but it’s also hard. As highly social creatures, isolation wears on us humans. (We’re kind of like ants that way… what? Ants are social. And highly organized.) When you have trouble communicating, that social distancing might break down more quickly. You might be tempted to remove your mask or stand closer to someone in order to hear them.
That’s why a hearing aid could literally save your life (okay, that’s only a slight exaggeration–-the social distancing will save your life; the hearing aid just lets you distance more successfully).
And that makes hearing aids more crucial than ever before.