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AJA-21-00021helfer_SuppS1.pdf (399.69 kB)

Adults’ experiences with pandemic-related disruptions (Helfer et al., 2021)

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-09-07, 17:45 authored by Karen S. Helfer, Sara K. Mamo, Michael Clauss, Silvana Tellerico
Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced lifestyle changes that may negatively impact communication, including the pervasive use of face masks and videoconferencing technology. Here, we examine the effects of age and self-rated hearing on subjective measures of speech understanding
via a survey accessed by adults residing in the United States.
Method: Responses to an online survey were obtained from adults (21 years of age and older) during the summer and fall of 2020. The survey included questions about hearing and speech understanding in a variety of scenarios and different listening conditions, including when communicating with people using face masks in quiet and noisy environments and when using videoconferencing.
Results: Data from 1,703 surveys were analyzed. In general, the use of face masks led to the perception of poorer speech understanding and greater need for concentration, especially in noisy environments. When responses from all participants were considered, poorer self-rated communication ability was noted as age increased. However, among people who categorized their overall hearing as “Excellent” or “Good,” younger adults rated their speech understanding ability in noisy situations as poorer than middle-age or older adults. Among people who rated their overall hearing as “Fair” or “Poor,” middle-age adults indicated having more difficulty communicating with people using face masks, as compared with older adults. Examination of open-ended responses suggested that the strategies individuals use when communicating with people wearing face masks vary by age and self-rated hearing. Notably, middle-age and older adults were more likely to report using strategies that could put them at risk (e.g., asking others to remove their face masks).
Conclusions: Even younger adults with self-perceived good hearing are not immune to communication challenges brought about by face masks. Among individuals with similar degrees of self-rated hearing, the expected increase in communication difficulty with age was not noted among our respondents.

Supplemental Material S1. Listening Survey Summer 2020.

Helfer, K. S., Mamo, S. K., Clauss, M., & Tellerico, S. (2021). Listening in 2020: A survey of adults' experiences with pandemic-related disruptions. American Journal of Audiology. Advance online publication.


This research was supported by NIH R01 DC01257 (K. S. Helfer) and NIH K23 DC016855 (S. K. Mamo).