Hospitals across the country are assuming everyone who walks through the door is a potential Covid-19 case, so they are requiring patients to wear a mask and come alone.
Face masks muffle speech
Background noise interferes
After measuring sound levels in a Portland, Oregon, Veterans hospital, researchers recorded background noise from medical and surgical wards then tested acutely ill patients.
In the best-case scenario with low noise, hospitalized patients with mild to moderate hearing loss could recall only 58% of key words. This dropped to 30% recall at the highest levels of hospital noise tested. All these disruptions can have serious consequences.
Some hearing loss is undiagnosed
In this new reality, those who are hard-of-hearing and deaf may be unable to access public health recommendations, learn about available services or make informed decisions about their own care when speech is only auditory.
This is especially true for people in hospitals, nursing homes or quarantine, who may find themselves suddenly isolated without assistance from family or friends.
There are simple ways to help
The good news is that simple, effective strategies can boost communication during this time of wearing masks and beyond.
Face each other at a safe distance of at least 6 feet. Maintaining eye contact enhances social connection and keeps attention focused on communication.
Ask people how they want to communicate
Seek out and offer multiple forms of communication, such as written text or real-time captioning and assistive technology. For those who use American Sign Language, qualified interpreters can be accessed through video relay.
Following these recommendations can empower people to communicate more effectively with the hard-of-hearing. While many things are out of control at this time, everyone can choose communication strategies that will help each other.
Nicole Marrone is an associate professor in speech, language and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona.