Have you ever suffered severe mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after finishing any examination or task that called for serious concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.
A similar experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a constant game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but in many cases they then have to fill in the blanks to decipher what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, becomes a problem-solving workout necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably figured out that the random collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article this way 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 outcome? People will start to avoid communication situations completely.
That’s exactly the reason we see many individuals with hearing loss come to be a lot 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 linked to.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not exclusively exhausting and demoralizing for the individual: hearing loss has economic repercussions as well.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimates that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is around $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 decreased work productivity.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss adversely impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Furthermore, 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 avoiding 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 exception of one or two.
- Take occasional breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, most of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, retreat to a quiet area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Attempt to control background music, find quiet places to talk, and pick the quieter areas of a restaurant.
- Read instead of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.