Face masks and Communication

Protective face mask on white background

Thanks to a sensitive Tweeter I have an issue I would like to raise for consideration in the period of the Corona Virus pandemic 2020 +

Facemasks and communication with particular consideration for the Parkinson’s community.  It seems likely that facemask wearing will be commonplace for some months to come in a population who are unused to them.

Hearing speech

Many of those who have known and recognised hearing loss use lip reading as the main way of understanding spoken speech.  Many more, in number terms, in the wider population, particularly in the older population subconsciously or unknowingly use lip reading to support a less profound hearing loss.  The widespread use of facemasks in many different settings will therefore make it far more difficult for a significant number of people to understand the spoken word.  Techniques such as sub titles can help when communication is via video of some sort but for face to face communication face masks raise difficulties.


Facemasks also hinder communication in the other direction the speaker with a quiet voice is less likely to be heard and the facial expressions that support communication are less visible.

Parkinson’s specific issues

As well as the difficulties above those who have Parkinson’s may have additional problems.

Some people with Parkinson’s experience problems with speaking, they may:-

  • Have a very quiet voice
  • Have a croaky hoarse voice
  • Have very flat intonation
  • Be slow to initiate speech
  • Have difficulty in finding words when under pressure

It is likely that using a facemask will make it far more difficult for these PWP to communicate what they mean.

Guidance on best practice for those who need to talk whilst wearing face masks may aid communications e.g.

  • If there exists a clear and sufficiently tight woven fabric that one can also breathe through that would probably be very helpful.  I don’t know of one.
  • It might be possible to devise some simple signing that at least alerts staff who may be trying to understand a person with Parkinson’s to the potential problems. 
  • Allowing time in the communication for repetitions and for PWP to gather their thoughts should be helpful

I would like to stimulate a discussion amongst those who may be able to provoke action on this matter. If you can help or have ideas please contact me.

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