Though studies have found they are effective in helping to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, face masks are not ideal for those living with hearing loss, with some 95% of respondents to a recent survey reporting that these facial coverings have adversely affected their ability to communicate with others during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In an effort to learn more about how the pandemic has affected those living with hearing loss — an estimated 48 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss — the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) surveyed 1,399 people across the country, 85% of whom were 55 years of age or older.
More specifically, an estimated 52% of participants have suffered from the condition for more than 30 years, with 77% reporting that they wear hearings aids. Another 32% said they have at least one cochlear implant.
Overall, an estimated 95% of participants reported that face masks and coverings have “created communication barriers” since the pandemic began, while 89% said the pandemic has specifically caused issued with accessibility, namely the ability to lipread due to face masks and physical distancing that has made conversations more difficult.
Meanwhile, some 35% of respondents said they have “experienced a lack of empathy from others for their hearing loss” throughout the pandemic.
Additionally, the survey also found that 70% of those with hearing loss said they have become more aware of their hearing loss since the pandemic began, while 46% said the pandemic has made them “more eager to explore hearing loss solutions due to the pandemic.”
What’s more, many study participants reported that suffering frrom hearing loss amid the pandemic has affected their mental health, with a whopping 67% of respondents saying they have feelings of anxiety.
Sixty-three percent reported having feelings of isolation, while 47% said they have feelings of loneliness. About 22% said they have feelings of confusion, while 21% have feelings of forgetfulness.
Overall, over half of participants — 52% — reported feeling “less connected to friends and family as a result of their hearing loss during the pandemic.”
“Research has long shown untreated hearing loss can negatively impact a person’s quality of life – and with masks and distancing, the impact the pandemic has had on people with hearing loss is enormous,” said Barbara Kelley, the executive director of the HLAA, in a statement, in part. “The survey results reinforce the overwhelming challenge with masks for the hearing loss community, and many requested that the larger population invest in safe, clear face masks.”
The HLAA survey further confirms earlier reports that face masks have made hearing trouble more obvious. In fact, such difficulties inspired one deaf Florida man over the summer to create special “windowed” face masks for lip readers.