Beyond the Mask


After a year of covering our faces, how difficult will it be to return to normal?

During the pandemic, mask wearing often has made it challenging for people to recognize each other and pick up on conversational cues.

Emotion is conveyed through facial expression and voice, says Gloria Garner, Au.D., senior audiologist at University Health Care System, and 85% of communication is nonverbal.

However, we — adults, children, even pets — have adapted and learned to communicate while wearing our new fashion accessories.

“People have had to tune into the eyes,” says Garner. “Young children are neurologically hard-wired to watch people’s faces.”

However, because they are malleable and resilient, she adds, young children shouldn’t suffer from long-term adverse effects of mask wearing.

“Babies and young children are primarily in the home,” she says. “Children who spend a portion of their days at daycare centers are around unmasked people at home at nights and on weekends and holidays.”

People also can talk to each other without wearing masks on Skype or Facetime and by social distancing.

In addition, Garner says, “The loudness of a person’s voice is decreased by about half when a person is wearing a mask. Losing loudness and visual information is difficult for all of us, but it’s especially difficult if you already have a hearing loss.”

Despite the adjustments people have had to make, she believes hope is on the horizon.

“We’re coming into a new era with vaccinations,” Garner says. “Things are opening up, and there are signs that life is returning to normal.”