ADOBE STOCK PHOTOA group of office workers are clad in protective face masks
ADOBE STOCK PHOTOMASKED UP — A group of office workers are clad in protective face masks. 

Hearing aids are just for old people, right? That’s at least what southwest Volusia County resident Jenny Weathers thought until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I didn’t realize it, but my hearing had been bad for so long I was reading people’s lips to help me with my hearing,” Weathers told The Beacon. “Once a mask went on, it was difficult. I’d have to say repeat and pull your mask down so I can understand you.”

Weathers is only 58, and while she knew her hearing wasn’t the best, it wasn’t until she couldn’t read lips that it became a problem. 

She’s not alone, either. Ask Beltone Florida President Nick Gray, and this is a bigger problem than anyone realized until the pandemic began. Wearing masks hasn’t been easy for any number of reasons, but the face coverings have stymied the spread of COVID-19 and helped people learn sooner rather than later that their hearing has declined.

“I think the masks themselves have uncovered much more than we anticipated, so it’s kind of a win-win,” Gray said. 

Hearing spoken words can be broken into two types of frequencies, he explained, high and low.

PHOTO COURTESY BELTONE ORANGE CITY
HAPPY TO HELP — Pictured are staffers at the Beltona America Orange City office, hearing specialist Matthew Jones, BC-HIS, and patient care coordinator Vilma Arce.

Low frequencies have more to do with volume. 

“If I say, ‘Hey, Noah,’ from another room, and you hear me speaking but don’t quite understand, that’s low-frequency sound,” Gray said. 

High-frequency sound is trickier, and it’s the sound that’s muffled by a face mask. That’s the frequency of sound that helps to determine whether someone said “cheese or sneeze,” Gray said. 

“This creates difficulty in people with normal hearing. People who had a mild or moderate loss  were able to get by with turning up the TV or asking people to repeat themselves,” he said. “People do it [read lips] whether they realize it or don’t.”

There is a stigma surrounding hearing loss, Gray added, but he has seen more younger people coming to the realization that they need hearing aids sooner, like Weathers. Gray encouraged everyone to, at least, consider a hearing test if they suspect they may be having a difficult time hearing their friends or the TV.

As for Weathers, she appreciates her new hearing aids.

“As a young woman, I used to race Jet Skis, so I was around loud motors a lot, and concerts; just everyday abuse of my hearing,” she said. “I tell you what, it was expensive [getting hearing aids], but it’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it. You feel more connected with everyone.”

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