The COVID 19 pandemic has created a “new normal” for everyone, but has disproportionately affected older adults(1). Senior living communities are tasked to keep up effective communication and engagement for seniors more than ever, but masks worn to keep all safe have made it especially difficult.
While wearing a mask is an adjustment everyone, it presents additional issues for older adults who have hearing loss. Masks cover the speaker’s mouth and make it impossible to read lips which is used unconsciously by many to supplement hearing limitations.
And the masks can also muffle voices and impede on helpful facial expressions. It’s crucial to provide seniors with the tools and assistance they need for effective communication since hearing impairment can lead to feelings of social isolation. Thankfully even with the use of masks, there are ways to do so!
Face Mask Coverings and Effective Communication
A recent study looked into the prominent impact of surgical masks and communication, proving that each type of medical mask in the study functioned as a low-pass acoustic filter for speech (2). Through changes and additions to the environment, body language, and added tools, seniors can communicate even through masks.
First of all, consider the environment when communicating with someone with hearing loss. Physical distancing must be maintained in many circumstances, and this distance will add another level of difficulty to clear communication. The ASHA recommends moving to a quiet location if possible. When it comes to visitation in long term care and senior communities, each state has provided specific restrictions that must be followed. Thankfully, there are ways to create a comfortable, private and practical visitation station that ensures parties can hear and speak to each other easily even while maintaining the required physical distancing.
Eversound wireless headphones bring families and residents together while maintaining physical distance using hands free two-way communication technology. These headphones help to overcome barriers such as plexiglass partitions or distances of over 150 feet. The Visitation Package with Eversound provides an effortless way to successfully hear and speak to loved ones with or without a mask, allows for easy easy and effective sanitation and does not rely on Wi-Fi or cellular service to work.
By using Eversound headphone system residents are again able to have quality, physically distanced in-person visits with their families versus being limited to virtual visits or conversations by phone. And these visits aided by Eversound allows all to to hear and speak freely and easily.
Other options include walkie talkies or cell phones.
Speech to Text
Another tool for in-person visits is speech to text technology. If you have a phone or device with Google, there is a helpful tool that changes speech to text. Having both the visitors and the resident use smart phones speech to text feature allows for assisted communication while wearing masks without the need to shout.
Utilize Body Language
Masks cover the mouth and nose, eliminating the ability to read lips and gauge tone by facial expressions. Keep in mind the usefulness of body language, and try these simple tips when talking with a senior.
ASHA recommends a few ways to help communicate better with a mask:
- Face each other
- Maintain eye contact and confirm you have their attention
- Gesture with hands
More Tips to Improve Communication
Along with difficulty hearing, masks can get in the way, frustrate and confuse the senior. Here are a few additional tips and things to keep in mind when visiting your loved one in a senior community.
Volume and Speed of Speech
A helpful way to improve communication is to vary the way you are speaking and ask the person how they best understand. ASHA recommends speaking up without yelling and speaking slower. With the use of Eversound listening systems, there is no need to yell! One helpful feature of the Eversound headphones is the ability to adjust volume easily on the headset, with the volume control designed for seniors.
ASHA points to issues with wearing a mask with hearing aids (4). They recommend securing the hearing aidwith a headband or tape or using a 4 string mask versus over the ear straps and checking on hearing aids often.
Don’t Let COVID-19 Mask Your Love
Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions and keeping seniors safe is quite the undertaking for senior living communities. Where a majority of residents have hearing limitations, masks and distancing makes it more difficult to provide the engagement, support, and love the senior needs. By using technology and following tips from ASHA, seniors are able to continue to engage with staff and other residents but also get tin-person visits they not only want, but need during this difficult time!