New survey finds masks and facial coverings impact ability to communicate during COVID-19 pandemic, plus respondents have a heightened awareness of hearing loss and eagerness to seek treatment
It’s no question the pandemic has transformed the way we live and communicate over the past year and will continue to evolve moving forward. But for the nearly 50 million Americans who live with hearing loss, the effects are even more prominent.
While masks and facial coverings have proven to keep people safe from COVID-19, a recent survey conducted by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and Cochlear found 95 percent of people living with hearing loss in the United States have seen their ability to communicate hindered by masks, which has also heightened their levels of anxiety and social isolation.
For a bilateral hearing aid user like Tim Browning, and a bimodal hearing recipient (a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other) like Lori A. Mertes, the absence of day-to-day practicing of listening and talking to people in face-to-face situations has been tough.
“With the prolonged pandemic, I didn’t realize the mental stress and fatigue culminated over time would add to the challenges to understand with masks,” says Browning. “Online communications and captioning are wonderful, but to effectively hear requires continual practice hearing in all situations. When we get out of practice, it becomes harder and harder to understand with masks, so we then have to advocate for ourselves all that much more.”
Mertes adds: “Hearing and understanding are two different things. With masks, I can hear you, but I don’t always understand you. Given we all may be challenged to hear with masks right now, I hope others will understand the challenges many of us in the hearing loss community face on a regular basis and now have amplified because of masks and distancing. Please slow down, speak clearly, be patient with us, and if we ask to you to repeat, please don’t say, ‘never mind.’ It’s very frustrating to be dismissed.”
However, the survey did find that 70 percent of those with hearing loss were more aware of their hearing loss due to the pandemic, and nearly half are more eager to explore hearing loss treatment options. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents are age 55 and up, and 52 percent of those with hearing loss have been diagnosed with hearing loss for over 30 years.
This is important because in the United States, one out of three people over the age of 65 and half of people over 75 are affected by disabling hearing loss, but appropriate hearing treatment and technology continues to be widely underutilized. Research continues to show aging adults with untreated hearing loss can be substantially affected by social isolation and loneliness with impacts to brain health and quality of life.
Coming out of this pandemic we hope to see people continue to take their hearing loss seriously and treat it appropriately, as well as continue to see greater standards on hearing access to help those with hearing loss.
If you or a loved one has noticed a change in hearing or suspect a hearing loss during the pandemic, visit HearingLoss.org for more information on how to treat a hearing loss, hearing technology available and community support resources. For those needing to explore a new hearing treatment beyond hearing aids, find a hearing specialist near you at Cochlear.us/FindAClinic.
See the full survey results here.
About Barbara Kelley:
Barbara Kelley became executive director at HLAA in March 2016. Hired by Founder Rocky Stone in 1988, Barbara has been a part of the organization’s growth, serving as editor for the award-winning magazine for more than 28 years. Her position as editor allowed her to influence attitudes, establish lexicon, and give people credible, reliable and timely information, and support, through the printed word. She has also helped manage the office team, served as deputy executive director from 2008-2016, and worked on many of the HLAA programs. Barbara serves on various boards and coalitions, among them: member of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health; the Federal Communications Commission Disability Advisory Committee; member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Nominating Organizations; the U.S. co-chair of the Consumer and Professional Advocacy Committee supporting the Delphi Cochlear Consensus Process; steering group of the Cochlear Implant International Community of Action; member of the Ida Institute Advisory Board and the Ida Institute Person-Centered Hearing Network; Consumer Technology Association Hearing Accessibility leader; and, the External Advisory Committee of the National Center for Deaf Health Research, University of Rochester Medical Center.
About the Hearing Loss Association of America
The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is the nation’s foremost organization representing consumers with hearing loss. The mission of HLAA is to open the world of communication to people with hearing loss through information, education, support and advocacy. HLAA holds annual conventions, produces Walk4Hearing events in cities across the country, publishes Hearing Life magazine, online learning and support webinars, advocates for the rights of people with hearing loss, and has a network of chapters and state organizations across the country.