Living through a pandemic with hearing loss
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all our lives, but for people with hearing loss, certain aspects of the situation have proved especially challenging.
This is the story of life during the Covid-19 pandemic for four people with hearing loss, as told in their own words. The stories they have shared about their everyday experiences and struggles during the pandemic have been intertwined to create a vivid, compelling, and sometimes amusing, account of living through a pandemic with hearing loss.
Text by Fiona Mowat, Rita Rivero, Morag Sievwright, and Derek Macfadyen, Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) representatives at Hearing Sciences – Scottish Section, and Louise Burke, Research Assistant and PPI Facilitator at Hearing Sciences – Scottish Section.
"Lockdown has been a challenge in so many ways - such as coping with isolation 24/7 or, conversely, living in a small area with several other family members for months. Then there’s the fear of getting the dreaded virus - or dealing with the dreaded virus. For others, having to wear a face mask is a struggle all of its own."
"During these times, it is difficult for most people, but for those with hearing difficulties it has added problems which most people do not realise."
"Keeping in touch with friends was absolutely essential during this period of restrictions."
"For me this was primarily the landline telephone. I was glad to use the speaker button though I had to check with the other person that I wasn’t over compensating by shouting down the line. The same when I was on the mobile. The beauty with these gadgets is that you can increase or decrease volume as required. The stumbling block, though, is when I was speaking to friends with more severe hearing loss. We laughed as we shifted from speaker to handset, then we trialled with or without our hearing aids in. By the time we were ready to converse we forgot what we were going to say."
"As chairperson of a committee I had to download Zoom on my desktop computer. Wow, what a revelation that was. Once again sound could be adjusted and I could also lip read if necessary without losing the place. I also invested in a DAB radio. Such clarity. Wish I’d bought one sooner."
"As a family, we use Zoom and Facetime a lot for wee get togethers but I find it very tiring and stressful if there are too many participants and when trying to listen in over lots of chatter and background noise. I have now had several job interviews over Zoom as well. A strange set up! Again, quite stressful trying to hear clearly. On one question, try as I might, I could not work out what the person said - so I had to say ‘I’m sorry, did I mention I have a hearing problem in my left ear, I can’t quite catch what you said’ and it was repeated by the worker who apologised saying she had forgotten that was in my form. Embarrassing."
"Since Lockdown, most of my shopping and banking has been on line but I have had cause to make quite important phone calls which I’ve sometimes found quite difficult, trying to hear and understand what is being explained, particularly if there is background noise or when the person seems to be turned a bit away."
"Then there’s the television."
"We’ve had a lot more family viewing since the start of lockdown. We discovered Modern Family on Netflix. Laugh out loud funny - except I can’t always hear it. The volume has to suit everyone and, thanks to my hearing aids, I can mostly hear - except for the funny little asides that this programme uses so often for laughs. There’s only one thing more annoying than using subtitles for a comedy show, and that’s having someone ask what was just said. So I have to accept I’m missing a few laughs. I’m grateful to have hearing aids though - they are handy to remove when I want to tune out the sports commentary."
"Once lockdown restrictions had eased, I cautiously ventured out again."
"I could meet my gang of friends at local eateries. What a blessing not to have to consume my own home cooking! There is a limit to how many pots of soup one can make and how many banana loafs you can bake! We always sat outside to eat which again was not so good for hearing. However that faded into insignificance when I was able to see pals again in person. Then restrictions changed and you could only meet with one other household. That was such an improvement and blessing for me and my hearing."
"Due to social distancing I am finding it difficult to converse with people who are standing further away from me than normal. If they are wearing a mask this adds to the problem and for the most part I cannot hear what they are saying. Their voice is just a mumble of words that I do not hear. Masks also take away the opportunity to lip read. This has had an impact on my life and has taken away a lot of my confidence when I meet people outside my home."
"My local supermarket used to be the place I meandered round, often stopping to chat to a friend or neighbour. Now I rush round as fast as I can, feeling like I’m in a weird dystopian movie. The bigger problem for many, of course, is not so much the look and discomfort of face masks - it’s that we no longer have our usual means of support for hearing people speak. When the sound is already muffled and we can’t see facial expressions and lips moving - it’s anybody’s guess what people are saying."
"Then face masks became mandatory. Another trial if you wore hearing aids."
"Wearing a mask with hearing aids is not ideal. When putting it on and taking it off, it sometimes catches on the hearing aid and I end up pulling the hearing aid out or it sometimes moves the settings."
"I’ve ended up with packets of sugar, “this week’s special coffee” and extra milk at Costa because I’ve given up asking the barista to repeat what they just said, and so I just nod. When I finally get my tray and make may way to the table to meet my friend, it’s with huge relief that I put down my tray and remove my face mask. What was that, pinging across the table and hitting her coffee mug? Oh, it was my hearing aid, once again dislodged by the mask. My guilty secret is out - if it ever was a secret. I’ve seen her look at me oddly when I’ve said something totally random to whatever she’s asked..."
"My biggest worry came to fruition yesterday when I lost a hearing aid in Waitrose car park. When I phoned, the young assistant was relieved I had been parked in the first Disabled Badge bay and he didn’t have to trawl through the whole car park! At least I won’t need to run the gauntlet by having to confess to my hearing aid clinic that I misplaced an aid! God forbid. I live to tell another tale."
"Light at the end of the tunnel"
"In general, people now seem delighted to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that things will be returning to normal in the not too distant future. Whilst that is indeed laudable, things will not really alter for some of us with varying degrees of hearing impairment. I am fortunate that my hearing loss is mild, just now, but for those with acute loss the world around about them will not alter significantly with regard to their hearing. We need to understand this and take care of one another."
Researchers at the Hearing Sciences – Scottish Section, which is based in Glasgow and is part of the University of Nottingham, recently conducted a study into the experience of the pandemic among people with hearing loss. The results echo the ideas expressed above; that people with hearing loss may struggle with certain aspects of Covid-19 lockdown and safety measures, such as face masks and social distancing. However, some unexpectedly positive results were found too. For example, many participants felt relieved that they could take a break from attending social gatherings where they would not hear well. However, for the most part, the pandemic, the lockdown, and the necessary safety measures which we must all take can be especially challenging for those with hearing loss.
If you enjoyed this piece, and are interested in learning more about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on people with hearing loss, follow this link to a summary of the study results.
Another Thursday in ‘lockdown’
One of our public research partners, Colleen Ewart, shares her everyday experiences of life under the first UK lockdown in Spring 2020, with the added challenge of hearing loss.
Read Colleen's blog here
Lip reading and mask-wearing do not mix
The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID, formerly Action on Hearing loss) took over Debenhams HQ for September 2020’s Lipreading Awareness Week to highlight the communication barriers of face coverings for anyone who relies on lipreading and the need for retailers and the general public to be Deaf Aware.
Information and communication tips on mask-wearing
Face masks and communication
Coronavirus information for families of deaf children, from the National Deaf Children’s Society (published 28 January 2022)
Face coverings: how the regulations apply to you
Information from the RNID, including tips on wearing a face covering when using hearing aids or a cochlear implant (last reviewed 28 January 2022)
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