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OCH Speech Therapist Explains Why Masks Create Communication Deficits

Understanding speech is not only related to the auditory component or "hearing" speech but can also rely on visual and environmental cues. Visual cues (e.g. lip reading and facial expressions) are largely absent when you or your communication partner are wearing a mask. (This is where the clear face masks come in handy!) In addition, the mask itself can dampen the auditory component of understanding speech and can restrict oral motor movements which results in more mumbled speech. The people who generally have the most difficulty are those who have some level of hearing deficit, but understanding can also be affected in noisy environments or if someone is attempting to communicate over longer distances.

Though it can be tempting, you shouldn't remove your mask when communicating with people who live outside of your home.  Instead, try making these adjustments to improve communication while wearing a mask:

  1. Speaking loudly (not yelling) will make it easier for your communication partner to understand the auditory component of speech.
  2. Make sure you are speaking face-to-face, make eye contact, and move closer to the other person if possible, avoiding talking over long distances.
  3. Speak slower and attempt to open your mouth wider, over-articulating words to avoid mumbling.
  4. Avoid speaking in noisy environments that will make it even harder to hear the message.
  5. Ask follow-up questions to ensure the person you are communicating with understands your message.

Repeating yourself or asking others to repeat themselves can be frustrating, so remember to have a little extra patience--we're all going through this together!

Lori Windle, MS, CCC-SLP, has 10 years of experience as a licensed speech language pathologists. She treats both inpatients and outpatients at OCH Regional Medical Center and has a special interest in dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) and speech and language deficits with adults. Appointments with Windle are available at OCH Rehab Services; however, a physician's or nurse practitioner's order is required for treatment.

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