How you can help communication when face masks are needed

Face masks and social distancing present hearing challenges. See how to adapt Widex hearing aids to help optimize speech intelligibility.

Face masks and social distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic can be frustrating for anyone – but particularly for people with hearing challenges. Our latest Audiological Bulletin and Widex Guide outline how Widex hearing aids can still be effective – and what you can do to help your clients. Here are some of the highlights from the two documents:

Masks adversely affect speech understanding

Speech understanding is affected by face masks in two ways. By covering the mouth, masks restrict important visual speech cues. Masks can also alter the acoustic properties of the speech signal that is transmitted. For some masks, attenuation of the sound can be as much as 10-12 dB in the 2000-7000 Hz range.* Even someone with normal hearing can experience a 30% decrease in audibility.

Increased social distancing affects speech understanding

A typical recommended minimal distance between people during the pandemic is 2 meters, which is approximately twice the distance characteristic of many normal conversations. As a result, the speech signal already attenuated will be further reduced, making an already difficult conversation even more challenging.

How you can help improve speech understanding

A key to providing an effective solution to these new audiological challenges lies in the understanding their impact. To ensure good communication with your clients, we recommend that you:

  • Always face the person you are talking to
  • Communicate in good lighting, making sure your face is lit; this also aids eye contact
  • Consider an approved clear face shield to maximize facial cues
  • Sit as close to each other as possible within the safe distance
  • Never have an important conversation while walking side by side
  • Use clear speech techniques: speak slightly slowly and clearly and pause occasionally. Do not shout or over-articulate
  • Rephrase your questions or input rather than repeating the same words
  • Minimize environmental noise
  • Have information ready in written form to minimize communication errors

It’s also a good idea to tell your clients how face masks and social distancing can affect their hearing. Share the above advice for them to use in their conversations.

Adjust the hearing aid fit to overcome mask attenuation of sound 

In addition to following the above guidelines, you can adjust the hearing aids’ amplification to compensate. This can be done by creating a dedicated mask program either at a physical consultation or remotely via WIDEX REMOTE CARE™. Your clients can also further adjust the settings as desired via the Widex App.

For more details, download our latest audiological bulletin, “Removing the Masking Without Removing the Mask: Improving Communication With Face Masks,” and our latest Widex Guide, “How to Overcome the Effect of Mask Attenuation in Widex Fittings.” 

*Llamas C, Harrison P, Donnelly D, Watt D. Effects of different types of face coverings on speech acoustics and intelligibility. Your Papers in Linguistics. 2008. 2(9): 80-104.

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