Coronavirus and Hearing Loss

Our hearts go out to those who have experienced COVID-19 and/or lost loved ones to this virus or even who can’t see loved ones in person because they’re quarantined. This is a time of serious consequences for all of us.

But there are special needs for the 20% of the population that has hearing loss, many of them older adults who may be susceptible to COVID-19 and may also be less adaptable to the changes that are coming quickly. Here are some tools to help.

Below:

  • Taking Care of Yourself
  • Hospitalization
  • Social Distancing with Masks
  • Doing Business

Taking Care of Yourself

Read this general guide from Shari Eberts on living with hearing loss during COVID-19 plus her 7 Tips to Maintain Hearing Health Care Amid COVID-19.

See Sheltering at Home? Ask Your Audiologist About Remote Care, which covers these topics:

  • What is teleaudiology
  • How to access remote care
  • How to access during COVID-19
  • The benefits of remote care
  • The limitations of remote care
  • The cost of remote care
  • Current teleaudiology platforms
  • Remote care from Costco
  • Hearing aids purchased online

Also see information below, in the Section on Online and Virtual Meetings, about telehealth.  That article gives guidelines about making video calls with your health care provider accessible for people with hearing loss when you can’t see your doctor in person.  Or go straight to guidelines here.

Hospitalization

For people with hearing loss, there are special challenges if we get sick and have to be hospitalized. People who are Deaf or hard of hearing may be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 and becoming very sick, or of becoming isolated, which can weaken our immune systems. Dr. Chad Ruffin offers this outstanding guide to preparing for care, self-advocacy, returning home, and much more.

If hospitalized, people with hearing loss can’t see the faces of medical practitioners speaking to them or about them. Note the picture above.  If they can’t wear their hearing aids or cochlear implants, they are unable to respond.  To address this, HLAA has designed a hospital kit to help patients with hearing loss. The kits include information that helps staff know how to communicate with you and they include a variety of materials that will identify your unique needs. Everyone should have one ready to go in an emergency and ask family members to have one too, in case the person with hearing loss can’t directly address their own needs.

Get more information and download or purchase a kit here. At $5 each to purchase, they are a bargain and could help save someone’s life by assuring that the right kind of communication can happen in a hospital setting. Downloads are free.

Social Distancing with Masks

Social distancing with masks will be required for some time to come, and this too presents huge challenges for people with hearing loss. Sound transmits less clearly the farther it travels; masks muffle the sound and hide the mouth, so people with hearing loss cannot communicate well when masks are required.  Additionally, many people with hearing loss must engage in online meetings where aids are necessary to understand speech clearly.

Some ideas for addressing these challenges include:

Face mask with transparent panel

HLAA cannot endorse specific companies or brands, but some options include The Communicator Surgical Mask and Medagadget.  Unfortunately, as with other masks at this critical time, there is a production shortfall, and there will be a delay getting orders filled.

Speech to Text Aids

The phone apps AVA , Microsoft Translator, InnoCaption, Otter.ai, and Google Live Transcribe (for Android) show real-time visual text of your conversations, called “speech to text.” Webcaptioner works on your computer or laptop.

Online and Virtual Meetings

Online meetings can be made more accessible by keeping meetings small, muting background noise, getting a second screen, using quality headsets and external microphones, and requiring live captions.

More online meeting tips are here from Deafhhtech.org and here from Catharine McNally.

Chapter and State leaders can get information about meeting platforms and speech recognition options here.

Live captions, or CART, help Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and they help others understand and recall information, too. Washington State contracts with these CART providers, and our guide and ist of providers can help you arrange CART. StreamText  and 1CapApp  work on any platform.

Now, with the coronavirus (COVID-19), it may not be safe to go to your doctor’s office. Your doctor may ask you to stay home and talk to him/her through online video. This is called “telehealth.” Your doctor must still give you an interpreter or captioning so you can understand your doctor when you use telehealth. This guide is to help you get access in telehealth. It provides guidelines for both doctor and patient. See the guidelines here.

Doing Business

More and more stores are using plexiglass panels to separate clerks from customers, in hopes of reducing spread of disease.  But plexiglass panels make it very challenging for people with hearing loss to hear and transact their business.

Tell the businesses you use about the speech transfer system opportunity.

Speech transfer systems enable clear voice communication between customers and staff through glass security screens. Transactions can therefore be conducted efficiently without difficulty or delay, even in noisy environments.

We are aware of only one company currently providing these in the US.  Get more information here.