Have you ever suffered substantial mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or activity that called for intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a constant game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are presented with context and a few sounds and letters, but in many cases they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, ends up being a problem-solving workout necessitating serious concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably realized that the random collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Just imagine having to read this entire article in this manner and you’ll have an appreciation 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 draining, what’s the likely result? People will start to abstain from communication situations completely.
That’s precisely why we see many people with hearing loss come to be much less active than they had previously been. This can contribute to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked to.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not just fatiguing 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 duration of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to depleted work productivity.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 annually. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.
Tips for Minimizing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, then, has both high individual and societal costs. So what can be done to minimize 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 a lot easier if all the letters are filled in with the exclusion of one or two.
- Take occasional breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking regular 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 partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Attempt to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and pick out the quieter 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 break and read a book.