Face masks are essential to slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That is both a medical and scientific fact.
However, there are some unintended implications that go with mask wearing. They can make it more difficult to understand speech. They may also muffle your words. In fact, how many times have you pulled your mask down to clarify a statement?
For listeners with hearing loss, masks can muffle higher frequency sounds and block the visual cues that help them to figure out what was said, according to a recent article in The Hearing Journal.
We are not suggesting that people should skip the masks, but choosing the right mask can make a world of difference when speaking to someone who has hearing loss. You probably rotate through a combination of surgical, non-surgical and home-made masks, depending on the circumstances.
Here is a quick rundown of how each kind of mask affects speech intelligibility for those who suffer from hearing loss.
N95 mask with respirator: one of the least muffling solutions.
Disposable surgical mask: the best mask (least muffling).
Loose weave (jersey or t-shirt) cloth mask: even with multiple layers, these facilitate better speech recognition than tighter weave material.
Tighter weave materials definitely create a more challenging listening environment even if they are only one- or two-ply.
Consider a Mask Bracket
One final new twist to this story is the emergence of “mask brackets”, devices that are inserted between the mask and your mouth to provide greater comfort and breathability. There are no studies yet on how these affect speech intelligibility but they are being used with greater frequency.
Everyone should wear a mask in public until we have this virus behind us; however, if you regularly speak with friends or family who have hearing loss, you may want to choose your mask carefully to address their needs.
* * *
SGD is a San Francisco Bay Area advertising, marketing and branding agency specializing in the senior and boomer markets. We’ve successfully positioned, branded and rebranded senior-oriented companies, weaving traditional and online tactics to create compelling stories that drive response.
About the Author: Duff Reiter is a Partner at SGD Advertising.