By J. C. Amodea
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in so many ways. It has even affected the way we communicate with loved ones. For many seniors who crave visitations from their grandchildren, whether via Zoom or in-person, the simple act of hearing and speaking has been compromised by the necessity of wearing face masks. And, that is one of the main challenges for folks to effective communication according to the professional hearing specialists, who are called audiologists, at Decibels Audiology and Hearing Aid Center.
An audiologist focuses on the evaluation and treatment of hearing loss. They also perform other testing that measures balance to evaluate dizziness. They provide rehabilitation training and dispense and fit hearing aids. Audiologists work closely with practicing physicians, government agencies and hearing aid manufacturers and work at private practices, hospitals, medical centers, clinics, universities, schools, speech and hearing centers, or nursing homes.
“One of the main challenges we see is hearing and understanding another person wearing a mask,” says Sarah Thomas, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology at Decibels Hearing Center. “The elimination of visual cues from the face, masks also diminish or reduce parts of the speech signal that are important for clarity and understanding. Also, when we are socially distancing and six feet apart, the overall volume of the signal is softer by the time it travels to the person. These three aspects combined make understanding someone wearing a mask much more difficult.”
Thomas explains that non-verbal cues in conversation are critical for comprehending a conversation and are relied upon more than we realize. Information such as reading lips and facial gestures help follow conversations and perceive the meaning of the message and are cues and gestures that help our brain fill in the gaps to understand what and how something is conveyed.
“The quality of speech when wearing a mask can be diminished and distorted by as much as 12 decibels depending on the type of mask worn,” says Brittany Gates, Au. D. “Not only is the overall volume of the speech diminished, but the clarity of speech can also sound muffled, which can result in speech that is unintelligible for many individuals, especially those with untreated hearing loss.”
“Early signs of hearing loss include the feeling that individuals around you are mumbling, you have difficulty with the clarity of speech in background noise, you need to turn up the television volume, you have to ask others to repeat themselves or you often find yourself asking ‘what?’. When your friends and family notice that you are having difficulty with your hearing, an appointment for a hearing evaluation may be in order.”
The best and most accurate way to determine if you have hearing loss is to visit an audiologist for a complete audiological hearing exam. If aids are recommended, the audiologist will provide options that are appropriate since every person and every hearing loss is different and each manufacturer has different strengths. There are aids that are the best fit for each hearing loss, lifestyle and budget.
“Hearing aids and technology are always improving. Some of the biggest changes in technology over the past few years have been improvements to the size, overall sound quality to the devices, as well as their ability to reduce the background noise in the environment. Additionally, many devices are now rechargeable as well as Bluetooth capabilities that allow you to connect to your smartphone and stream phone calls, music or podcasts,” says Rachel Edwards, Au.D.
“The average cost for a pair of aids ranges from approximately $2,000 to $6,200 depending on what is appropriate for your hearing loss and lifestyle. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover hearing aids. Some health insurance or supplemental plans do cover some or all of the cost of hearing aids, but it varies greatly. Our office offers financing options.”
Adriana Villalobos, M.A., CCC-A, audiologist, who has been serving Naples for over 20 years, says that if you have hearing loss, it is very important to wear your hearing aids and to be careful when removing your mask to ensure they do not fall off.
“We also carry ‘Ear Savers,’ which is an adjustable part that will keep your face mask off of your ears and behind your head instead. ‘Face Mask Mode’ is a new program some of our hearing aids have that can assist aid wearers clarity when someone with a mask is speaking to them.”
Villalobos offers some tips for those using hearing aids during COVID. And, for those who do not use aids, she added that the communication tips are the same. Good communication strategies are important and useful whether or not you have hearing loss.
- Try to keep your conversations one-on-one with minimal background noise.
- If you are unsure what the speaker said, ask them to re-phrase what they said, not repeat.
- Take turns when speaking.
- Face the speaker, at a safe distance.
- Use clear masks, if possible.
- Be sure you are in a secure location when taking your mask on and off, to ensure that if your hearing aid does fall off, you know exactly where it is.
Michael Ellis, B.A., Audiology Assistant notes that it is important to differentiate a private audiology practice from a manufacturer or independently owned hearing aid dispenser office.
“Decibels Audiology and Hearing Center is Audiology-based and staffed with audiologists that have master’s or doctoral degree in audiology, however, more education does not mean more expensive. We believe that hearing loss treatment is a partnership, and that service is the most important aspect of keeping our patients well, and their hearing aids in good working condition,” Ellis says.
“Because we are independently owned, we work with all manufacturers of hearing aids. Many offices are owned by a manufacturer and only offer one brand of aids. We know that each hearing loss case is different, and this offers the flexibility to fit our patients with the best brand and device for their hearing loss.”
Decibels Audiology and Hearing Center offers TeleHealth and virtual appointments in addition to their popular curbside service, where the staff works directly with the devices and professionally cleans them while patients wait in their cars.
For more information about the Hearing Aid Center:
3000 Immokalee Road, Suite 8, North Naples; 971 Michigan Ave, South Naples; 9140 Bonita Beach Road SE, Bonita Springs
Hours: 9 am – 4 pm, Monday – Friday
Contact: 239-593-5327 or visit www.NaplesHearingAids.com