Have you ever suffered severe mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after finishing any test or activity that required rigorous concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to crash.
An analogous experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a continuous game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are presented with context and a few sounds and letters, but more often than not they then have to fill in the blanks to decipher what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, becomes a problem-solving workout necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably worked out that the haphazard assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article this way and you’ll have an understanding for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.
The Personal Effects of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes exhausting, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to stay clear of communication situations completely.
That’s the reason why we see many individuals with hearing loss come to be much less active than they used to be. This can result in social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being associated with.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not just exhausting and demoralizing for the individual: hearing loss has economic consequences as well.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is approximately $300,000 per person over the course of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to diminished work productivity.
Supporting this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely impacted household income by an average of $12,000 per year. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect it had on income.
Tips for Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, then, has both high personal and societal costs. So what can be done to offset its effects? Here are some tips:
- Wear Hearing aids – hearing aids help to “fill in the blanks,” thus preventing listening fatigue. While hearing aids are not perfect, they also don’t have to be—crossword puzzles are much easier if all the letters are filled in with the exclusion of one or two.
- Take regular breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to comprehend. Try to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and go for the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
- Read instead of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.