The National Acoustics Laboratories (NAL) has announced the development of a solution to a challenge faced by hearing aid users worldwide in 2020—the impact of face mask use on their understanding of speech. 

NAL, the research division of Hearing Australia, has issued recommendations for audiologists across the world on how best to adjust hearing aids to counter the effect of face masks for people who use hearing aids.  

“Face masks are a powerful tool against the spread of COVID-19 but they also soften speech sounds i,” said Dr Brent Edwards, NAL director. 

“NAL’s recommendations are designed to help hearing aid users worldwide communicate with people wearing masks. Now that we can share our evidence-based solution, we anticipate it will have implications nationally and internationally, which is most exciting.” 

Evaluation, involving computational models of speech and hearing as well as laboratory speech tests, has proven that the adjustments help hearing aid users understand speech just as well as when the speaker is wearing a mask as when they are not.   

Related article: NAL Update: Impact of Face Masks and Face Shields on Communication, by Louise Martin, MSpPathSt

NAL’s solution details specific adjustments that can be made to any type of hearing aid to counter the effect of different types of face masks on speech sounds. It follows extensive research into the effect of face mask use on speech understanding and how best to counter it.  

Hearing Australia has already started implementing the solution in its centers across Australia.

“Our clients have indicated they’ve noticed a marked difference with NAL’s hearing aid adjustments. They have improved their understanding of masked speakers while having no impact on the sound of their own voice or other sounds,” said Emma Church, Hearing Australia audiologist.

“Restoring the ability to understand speech takes the stress out of everyday tasks like shopping and attending health appointments. So we’re keen to spread the word about our solution,” said Edwards. 

NAL’s recommendations have been released to audiologists globally and detail how they can implement the adjustments to their patients’ hearing aids to allow them to better understand people wearing masks.  

To view the recommendations, click here.

Wang X, Ferro EG, Zhou G, Hashimoto D, Bhatt DL. Association between universal masking in a health care system and SARS-CoV-2 positivity among health care workers. JAMA. 2020;324(7):703-704.

Source: NAL, JAMA