by Lauren Simmons
Communication can be challenging for people with Parkinson's. Hearing loss, masked expressions and soft voices can make things difficult. Our recent rules of 6-foot social distancing and wearing masks only compound the problem. At a recent venture to the grocery store, I realized how difficult it was to communicate in my usual way. I no longer knew what someone meant when they stopped and nodded to me. I couldn’t see their whole face. Were they pausing to let me go in front of them? Were they warning me not to get too close? Were they smiling or grimacing? Likewise, others couldn’t see my facial expressions. Here are some things to keep in mind and maybe help you communicate more easily.
Did you know that 70% of communication is non-verbal? This includes body movement and orientation, hand gestures, vocal intonation, eye contact and facial expressions. All of this is more difficult to interpret from a distance and from behind a mask. Now is a great time to bump up your verbal skills by working on speaking louder and with intent. Singing and vocal exercises help a lot. Don’t let the stay at home order deter you. There are online programs to help you out. Try joining a group like the Tremble Clefs or the Parkinson’s Voice Project.
Keep in mind, if people had trouble hearing you before, they will have even more trouble when your voice is muffled behind a mask. You are likely to have more difficulty hearing them also. Don’t hesitate to ask someone to repeat themselves. They may not realize how muffled their voice is behind the mask. They won’t mind repeating themselves especially if you ask nicely.
Wait to talk until there are no distractions. If the pharmacy clerk has his back turned or is there is an announcement going on overhead, it will be harder for them to hear you and for you to hear their answer. This is good practice at home also. Instead of calling to your spouse from the other room, walk in and get their attention before speaking. Be cognizant of background noises that may interfere like the dishwasher running or the T.V. being on.
Many of us are communicating over the computer these days using programs like Zoom, Google Groups, or Microsoft Teams. There are a few things you can do to make communicating easier on both ends of the conversation.
If possible, use your computer as opposed to an iPad or phone. The screen will be bigger and it will be easier to see the speaker. We all do a bit of lip reading even if our hearing is perfect. To make it easier for others to see your face, make sure you are sitting with good light on your face. Also, if you’re the lipstick wearing type, put some lipstick on. The contrast of your lips makes it easier for others to read your lips.
Using a headset that has a microphone or Airpods, will make your voice louder and clearer to those listening. This is especially helpful if you have a soft voice.
If you wear hearing aids, find out if they have a blue tooth feature. Using this feature can take the speaker’s voice right to you hearing aids.
Although not everyone with Parkinson’s, is a senior, the majority are. One third of people over age 65 have some hearing loss and this prevalence is even higher in seniors with PD. It is a good practice to see an audiologist annually to get a hearing test and since so much of our communication is visual, it is a good idea to have an annual eye exam and make sure your prescription is up to date.
Happy communicating and may we all be able to see each other’s smiles in person soon!